From The Heart – GB Communities Are Ground Zero for Hope and Resilience
9th September, 2020
Nassau, THE BAHAMAS — As a Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) Special Ops Lieutenant in New York city many years ago, William Keegan wrestled with mountains of twisted steel and human body parts that littered the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. He had no idea back then that out of that disaster would grow a passion for helping others rebound from their own calamities, including scores of Bahamian storm survivors nearly 20 years later.
Some six years after the September 11th catastrophe rocked the world, Mr. Keegan founded Healing Emergency Aid Response Team (HEART) 9/11, a non-profit disaster response organization comprised of police officers, fire fighters, and union construction workers that bonded during the Ground Zero recovery missions.
“During that time, we took our skills to a whole different level,” shares Mr. Keegan. “And we now, being retired, want to share those skills, those experiences with others who are suffering through disasters of their own, such as we did following 9/11. And this brought us to The Bahamas following Dorian.”
The team was on the ground in Abaco soon after Hurricane Dorian caused massive devastation in September 2019. The deadliest and costliest tropical cyclone on record to strike The Bahamas, Dorian in many ways was to Bahamians what the terrorist attacks in the U.S. were to the American people. Thus, a bond borne out of tragedy was formed.
Today, not only has the HEART 9/11 team moved on to helping families in Grand Bahama, the organization has forged a partnership with the Bahamas Hope Foundation, University of The Bahamas-North, Templeton Religion Trust, Revelation Faith Apostolic Ministries and community champions to teach men and women carpentry skills as they repair and restore roofs that Hurricane Dorian damaged. A cohort of 17 persons is enrolled in the UB-North Pre-Apprentice Carpentry programme and the students are working on rooftops across Grand Bahama.
“What we like to do is to start to transfer our knowledge of rebuilding to the people who were most affected by a storm, and who could help their own neighborhoods, help their own community, by learning these skills that would be so necessary to rebuild their communities and possibly be a way for them to make a living so they can support their families over years,” Mr. Keegan notes.
Upon successful completion, UB-North will certify each student as a pre-apprentice carpenter, having completed not only the academic and practical elements of their programme, but also Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), First Aid and CPR training. As a further incentive, each person is receiving $325 per week for the eight-week duration of the programme.
“Grand Bahamians are a proud and extremely resilient people. This is a very proud community. It’s gone through many challenges, and they are determined to make the best lives for themselves on this island, and they continue to inspire me,” says Vice President of UB-North Dr. Ian Strachan.
“All of the nonprofit organizations who have reached out to Grand Bahama and Abaco in this time of greatest need, have truly renewed my faith in humanity because of the selflessness, the generosity, and the love for their neighbors that they have shown. HEART 9/11 epitomizes that,” he adds.
Hurricane Dorian severely damaged the UB-North campus in East Grand Bahama tattered, like many of the structures on that part of the island. Faced with the opportunity to participate in such an initiative, the question for the University was not whether to extend support but how to do so, according to Dr. Strachan.
“The philosophy really is that there is learning and self-discovery, opportunity and growth available at every stage of life’s journey, and we want to be able to tailor learning experiences that will enable our citizens to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the marketplace,” he says.
Community partners like Bishop Sidney McIntosh of Revelation Faith Apostolic Ministries are helping to identify houses and structures in desperate need of repair. Bishop McIntosh has recruited local contractor, Mr. Leroy Noel, who now serves as the project manager for HEART 9/11’s initiative.
“Being in the field with these great men and women that are a part of this programme, we see the eagerness, we see the enthusiasm, we see them just willing, ready for the information, the knowledge that they’re receiving, the skills they’re getting their hands on. [They] just want to make a difference in their community, not just at the end of the day for themselves, but in order to empower somebody else that’s around them,” Mr. Noel says.
The cohort was initially introduced to various carpentry tools, like drills and skill saws, and was taught how to use them safely and correctly. In the weeks to come, the work will become much more intense.
“We did some inspection of the homes that we’re going to be working with,” explains Mr. Noel. “And let me tell you, it brought a joy to me to see that, okay, not only were they willing and able to go to work, but when we got out in the field, it was more like ‘I can understand, I can’t wait’.”
The cohort is just as diverse as the homeowners who are being identified for the repairs, including both traditional aged and mature students as well as three women, one of whom is a local beekeeper. As they work to repair homes and restore hope, they too are being transformed like many of the partners involved in the initiative.
“This has been an incredible relationship with all of our partners as we are all committed to serving our fellow man,” says Mr. Keegan. “And that’s the one thing that strikes me when I talk to all of our partners; how selfless this effort is and how nice everybody is to each other because there are no egos. It is all about the work we do for others.”
Images show students in the programme being supervised in the field, completing repairs on the rooftops of residences in the Tripp Circle community in Freeport Grand Bahama. (Photos courtesy of Lance Poitier).
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Chartered on 10th November 2016, University of The Bahamas (UB) is a beacon for national transformation. Approximately 5,000 students are enrolled in the University of The Bahamas system which includes campuses and centres on New Providence, Grand Bahama, San Salvador and Abaco, as well as UB online education. UB’s diverse academic programmes, research engagements, athletics and leadership development experiences equip our students to become global citizens in a dynamic world.