BY: Yolanda Pawar
Shenique Smith is the proud proprietor of “Neek’s Eats and Treats,” a quaint, down-home restaurant just beyond the beautiful waterfront in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera. If you are fortunate enough to visit and enjoy a mouthwatering meal, two things will immediately stand out, the authentic Bahamian cuisine delightfully reminiscent of grandma’s “down home” cooking and Shenique’s warm and welcoming hospitality. Behind her light-hearted demeanor is a woman of grit and resilience who has successfully weathered some storms.
As a female entrepreneur in her mid-thirties, Shenique is holding her own and is keenly focused on taking her culinary dreams to their fullest potential. Looking at her thriving business and exuberant smile, it’s pretty astonishing to think that just four short years ago, Shenique experienced one of the greatest seasons of loss and devastation in her life. It was on September 1st, 2019, that Hurricane Dorian struck the northwest Bahamas, completely flattening her hometown of Murphy Town, Abaco.
As one of the strongest Atlantic Hurricanes on record, Dorian was unprecedented and bore down the hardest on Abaco and Grand Bahama. It caused extreme flooding and mass destruction of homes, businesses, and infrastructure while leaving a tragic trail of heartache and human loss. According to the Inter-American Development Bank’s assessment, damages were estimated at $3.4 billion, equal to one-quarter of The Bahamas’ GDP. In the aftermath, thousands of people and families were left devastated, homeless, and unable to support themselves.
Shenique admits that it is traumatic to recall the chaos and terror of the storm even now. Having to scramble from her roofless, flooded house with her children in tow, searching for shelter as the eye of the Hurricane passed over her settlement, and seeing countless others desperately doing the same is still understandably jarring for her. Within seventy-two hours of the storm’s landfall, her life was utterly and irrevocably changed.
She was uprooted from her home, stripped of her business and every possession she owned, and separated from her family. As conditions on the ground worsened, her family worked feverishly to get relatives off the island, one by one, to safety. Her family was among thousands of shell-shocked and exhausted evacuees who narrowly escaped death. Now they were facing what seemed to be insurmountable odds, having to figure out the survival plan and wondering how they would ever be able to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move forward.
Shenique vividly recalls arriving at North Eleuthera when things started to look up, and she finally felt an overwhelming sense of relief. She was received warmly by the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) team and reunited with her two young daughters and eight additional family members who had also been evacuated from Abaco.
The entire family was transported to The Retreat Hotel, a social enterprise and training hotel operated by OEF in Rock Sound. The property had become a place of refuge and was transformed into a “home base” for the evacuees who were now arriving on Eleuthera by the hundreds. For nearly six months, OEF
took the lead in orchestrating and providing housing, transportation, daily meals, personal items, clothing, supplies, support, and counseling services for approximately six hundred evacuees, including Shenique and her family.
The Centre for Training and Innovation Opened Their Doors to those in Need
The hotel’s restaurant was transformed into a cafeteria, providing evacuees with three daily meals and snacks, and a pantry was set up to stockpile and distribute food items and groceries. Professional counseling services were provided to help individuals, children, and families cope with the psychological and emotional impact of the storm.
Activities were organized on the property to keep the children engaged as team members and community volunteers began working together to gather uniforms and school supplies for the children to be enrolled in local schools.
Additionally, nearby rental homes, hotels, and vacant apartments were commissioned to house the growing number of displaced people and keep families together. It was a complex operation involving local and international partnerships and dedicated community volunteers. The OEF team took great care in supporting the varying needs of the evacuees to help restore stability and a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.
In the ensuing weeks, some of the evacuees were provided with employment by OEF according to their skill sets. Over a dozen people were hired for the organization’s social enterprises, including the restaurant and farm. Other jobs were sourced within the community for those prepared to stay on Eleuthera.
Shenique was one of the persons hired as a Line Cook in the restaurant. She was later promoted to Sous Chef. For her, it was the perfect segue and an essential first step in rebuilding her life, livelihood, and dreams.
OEF’s ability to quickly mobilize and be fully responsive to the needs of those most affected by Dorian, like Shenique, illuminates the crucial role that local nonprofits and disaster relief agencies can play in times of crisis to provide immediate and ongoing aid to their communities following a disaster.
Nonprofits can Bridge the Gap in Times of Need
Local agencies and nonprofits have much to offer and can play a valuable role in the disaster recovery process. Other supporting factors to consider are:
1. Quick Response: Local organizations tend to be deeply connected to their communities, allowing them to respond quickly when disaster strikes. They have a finger on the pulse regarding local needs, infrastructure, and resources, giving them the leverage to mobilize rapidly and efficiently.
2. Local Knowledge: Local organizations understand the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of the affected communities. They are better equipped to identify and prioritize the most urgent needs and tailor their aid to meet the specific needs of each community and subgrouping.
3. Trust and Community Engagement: Local organizations have established trust within their communities and with key stakeholders, which can lead to better communications and cooperation in delivering and fairly distributing resources.
4. Access to Remote Areas: In a disaster, some areas can be restricted due to damaged infrastructure. Being familiar with the “lay of the land” means that local organizations
are better positioned to navigate challenges and find solutions with the available resources to reach remote or isolated communities with urgent assistance.
5. Flexibility and Adaptability: Flexibility and adaptability are vital in the critical hours, days, and weeks following a disaster. Faced with rapidly changing needs and circumstances, a local agency can quickly pivot and adjust its strategy to address the challenges that arise moment by moment on the ground.
6. Cost Effectiveness: Being based within the community can result in lower overhead costs compared to larger international organizations. This allows more efficient use of the resources to make a direct impact.
7. Cultural Sensitivity: Being part of the local community, a locally based organization is more attuned to cultural norms and sensitivities.
It is important to note that the most successful relief efforts involve a combination of local, national, and international support, with each entity contributing its unique strengths to help affected communities recover and rebuild faster. Many of these same strengths also make third-sector organizations like OEF adept at community development.
Where is She Now
To see Shenique now – flourishing and reclaiming what once seemed lost is a testimony to her personal faith, determination, hard work, and resilience, as well as the power of a community, government agencies, and local and international nonprofits and humanitarian organizations to band together to deliver critical resources in times of crisis. She says, “I am forever grateful for the support and help available to me and my family, as well as the countless other Hurricane Dorian evacuees in our time of need.”
She has come a long way in four years and has thrived beyond the storm. Her restaurant is a bustling community spot that contributes to the local economy. Tourists and locals regularly gather there to enjoy a delicious meal and rich cultural exchanges centered around their love of Bahamian flavors and, of course, Shenique’s signature recipes. She has plans to one day expand her business throughout Eleuthera.
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.