Editorial | The Bahamian spirit of charity
The news channel Al Jazeera aired a report yesterday from Dominica. It was tragic. There was rubble everywhere. People were in need of food and water. Those with family on the island were trying to evacuate them.
A small Caribbean country is on its knees after being hit directly by Maria, a Category 5 hurricane.
Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit confirmed yesterday that 27 people have died, 27 are confirmed missing and there are 18 unconfirmed missing.
Our prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, did the right thing on Sunday. Skerrit briefly visited The Bahamas. Minnis pledged to accept students and other Dominicans with families in The Bahamas.
This was a kind gesture. He demonstrated the best of the Bahamian spirit.
We are not a rich country, but we have offered to do what we can to ease the suffering of our Caribbean brothers and sisters.
Dominica is a small place. Its population is around 75,000. With infrastructure destroyed, it’s hard to enter or leave the island. If Bahamians with roots in Dominica have relatives who are interested in coming, only a few people would likely make the trip. Trinidad and Tobago made the same offer to Dominicans that Minnis made.
We were disappointed with, but not surprised by, the responses we read on social media and heard on talk radio to the prime minister’s gesture. There is a repugnant xenophobia in The Bahamas that prevents too many of our people from feeling empathy with outsiders. This problem is worsened if the people are of African ancestry. We do not mind if aid is sent to them “over there”. We don’t want them to come “here”, however.
The people of Dominica endured the same forces of history as us – from slavery and colonialism, to the fight for independence and self-determination as a small island developing state. They have the same dignity as us. They have the same aspirations, hopes and dreams.
Circumstance had it that Maria hit them. It could just as easily have been us. Those who do not want to open their hearts, homes and country to Dominicans should put themselves in their shoes. Imagine New Providence and Grand Bahama destroyed. Imagine there being no water and food. Imagine there being no functioning state to save you. We would be at the mercy of the kindness of strangers from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominica, Trinidad, Barbados, other Caribbean countries, the United States, Canada and other major powers.
Their compassion would be the only thing keeping Bahamians from starving to death. Their assistance would help us rebuild and get back on our feet.
The Bahamas is not protected by magic. It is just as vulnerable as any other Caribbean country to destruction from a major storm. We all live in a hurricane zone. The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Martin have colonial masters. Though aid has been slow, their rulers have vast militaries and billions of dollars to help.
We the independent small states of the Caribbean do not have that. It is important that we look out for each other in moments of crisis. That solidarity is an insurance policy that saves lives.
Let’s be better. Place yourselves in the shoes of people who look like you; people who think like you. Their history is similar to yours. Help. Be willing to help. Have compassion. Let’s stop uttering hate and indifference toward people in need.