By Tanvi Goklani

When volunteers from St. Maarten and Curaçao decided to join a disaster relief and crisis team, they signed up not knowing where a disaster would take them, or even what toll that experience would have on their emotional and physical well-being.

Nevertheless, they decided to take on that liability in hopes of bringing relief to some of the most devastated groups of people, during a time of loss and uncertainty. Throughout the year, that hope to help brought them to trainings to gain the necessary certifications and skills to prepare for a disaster; although dealing with a disaster is a reality that many wish they would never have to do.

On September 1, catastrophe struck The Bahamas, and left K1 DIRECT with the question of how they could help. Hurricane Dorian massacred parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama leaving the community in one of the biggest crises the country has faced. As news of countless deaths, flooding and damage was reported, many relief organisations wondered where to start reaching out.

For K1 DIRECT, the starting point was the moment the team’s group-chat received the code red announcement, as this meant that team members should be ready to deploy within 48 hours. Within 48 hours, 13 members, with help from teammates who would remain in St. Maarten for support, packed numerous backpacks with dry snacks, mosquito repellent, gloves, sleeping bags, tents, flashlights, AEDs [Automated External Defibrillators], batteries and just about everything needed to be self-sufficient in an unknown situation, and prepared to take off.

The group travelled to Nassau where it broke up into smaller teams and immediately connected with locals and a relief initiative. This initiative allowed K1 DIRECT to assist with the registration of evacuees coming into a private airport.

There was a need to collect data to provide shelter, supplies and medical support for persons coming from complete loss. Chartered jets and large commercial planes brought in hundreds of evacuees each day, some of them wearing the same clothes for days, as it was the only thing they had left.

Soon there was word of a need that had to be filled in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and throughout the days, the team moved into Freeport, while Iris Hakkens’ team stayed back in Nassau and took the lead to work with some of the largest humanitarian aid organisations in the world, such as United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Shelters were becoming over-capacitated and new buildings needed to be checked against international humanitarian aid standards so they could open their doors. Every day, local persons were added to the equation for assistance, as government officials also asked how they could help.

Time was ticking, people needed more space. K1 DIRECT knocked on doors, connected dots, and made sure that empty properties located around Caves Heights, Bernard Road, and other areas that were pointed out by local volunteers were put into the right hands to be assessed as short- or long-term shelters. This process went on for days.

Over on the other island, the team in Freeport provided boots on the ground, support for one of NEMA’s (National Emergency Management Agency) warehouses filled with hygiene products, canned goods, dry foods, water and other supplies.

One of K1’s strengths is distribution management, so when the team noticed that the distribution process was somewhat arbitrary, they pitched a new process to lead operations and volunteers; everyone welcomed the approach with open arms.

The team opened boxes, lined supplies into an L-shape, and made sure packages of each kind of item were bundled to be sent to households in the most affected neighbourhoods. K1’s principles on collaboration, and the long, sweaty hours in the warehouse were worth it because the team was able to work with other volunteers and organisations, making the process a lot more streamlined.

When asked who would be willing to clean shattered glass, connect running water, and throw out old supplies from an empty warehouse, K1 DIRECT rose to the challenge, realising the lasting benefits an extra distribution centre would have. No request was too minor or too complicated; a challenge never lacked a solution – these are the K1 values that were brought into that warehouse too.

The locals that K1 DIRECT worked with were all affected by the devastation, losing one or multiple loved ones. Stories of children and spouses being swept away in the surge were constantly told, but the locals in that warehouse knew that they too had an important part to play in this large relief effort, so they pushed through before reconciling themselves to their losses.

K1 DIRECT provided emotional and physical support through team-spirit and with a where-can-I-help attitude, aiming to make efforts less disheartening for everyone involved.

Throughout this whole mission, K1 DIRECT teammates learnt a lot about each other, their strengths and what could be improved, while others in the community learnt what K1 DIRECT was capable of. With a team of that many persons, juggling everyone’s strengths, emotions and expectations can be challenging, but a common thread that connected each team member was an openness and willingness to help where needed, to dive into an unknown situation of devastation.

The lack of water and electricity, or nights spent sleeping on floors and bathing with sea water, didn’t deter team members. Instead, they realised they were part of a network of local and international volunteers putting on their boots and coming together to work on a common goal, to get the community back on its feet.

This concept of community means more than one thing to K1 DIRECT, but most importantly, being a part of the Caribbean community, we have come to terms with the fact that a hurricane does not discriminate. Nevertheless, during those times of crises, we have an opportunity to recognise the strength and resiliency in each other as Caribbean people.