Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Friends of the Environment: An Anniversary we'll never forget

The anniversary of Hurricane Dorian reminds us of Abaco's devastation, recovery, and resilience since
September 1st, 2019.
Take the journey with us...
Just two days away from making landfall, Dorian stirs in the Atlantic before it makes landfall first in Abaco. Image credit to NOAA.
September 2019 : I M P A C T
On September 1st, 2019, Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Abaco islands. It was the strongest recorded Atlantic hurricane, with sustained winds at 185mph and gusts over 220mph. Some of FRIENDS' Staff and Board members endured the wrath of the storm, while others became a fundamental part in communications from survivors to their loved ones. The days that followed the landfall of Dorian encompassed feelings of overwhelming grief, indescribable loss and unbelievable realities, with moments of relief as survivors were accounted for and devastation as others were lost. No amount of words can be relayed to describe exactly how those moments felt, but one thing remained: the evident resiliency of our Abaco people.
Community destruction after Dorian in Marsh Harbour. Mountains of debris were left behind. Photo credit to The Atlantic
(Above and below): Our office building encompassing staff offices, the first Natural History Museum in The Bahamas and our classroom was decimated.
FRIENDS Executive Director, Cha Boyce, holds our Bahamian flag with pride in her community of Hope Town, Elbow Cay just a few days after Dorian hits.
Barely any docks were left behind after Dorian passed. Pictured are destroyed boats and docks in Treasure Cay. Photo credit to USA Today
October - December 2019 : G R O U N D I N G
September seemed to be over in the blink of an eye as days meshed into one. Although we were still experiencing grave challenges in our personal lives, we knew it was time to begin grounding ourselves in our organization and determine what we could do in the midst of this tragedy. We regrouped and realized that our mission at FRIENDS could be fulfilled in a whole new light. With a positive attitude and strong determination, this realization lead us to embracing opportunities that were coming our way from all sorts of avenues.
Nashville Fundraiser
Chris Farren, realising early on that he would not be able to bring the Combustion Music / Hope Town Music Festival to Abaco, pulled together a successful event of music and fellowship raising funds in aid of Dorian Relief. FRIENDS team members traveled to Nashville to support the event. Over the years the Combustion Music / Hope Town Music Festival has become an important fundraising event for FRIENDS, and we look forward to the days when the event will once again return to Abaco. We are grateful for the generosity of our Nashville friends.
YachtAid Global (YAG)
School Supplies
The needs of the schools that suffered minimal damage from Dorian were even more pressing as new students transferred to them from other communities. The generosity of YAG lead to school supply donations to schools in South Abaco and Green Turtle Cay - from textbooks to tablets and more. FRIENDS helped YAG connect with teachers to find out their needs, and with delivery of those supplies in October, just one month after Dorian.
SeaLegacy is a nonprofit organization co-founded by Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen in 2014. Their mission is to create healthy and abundant oceans for us as humans and for the planet. They visited Abaco to document the social and environmental devastation from Hurricane Dorian. We were able to lend local knowledge and logistics adding to the impact of their storytelling. This will be premiered in the near future on SeaLegacy and NatGeo platforms. Stay tuned.
Rocky Mountain Institute, Solar Micro Grids and 60 Minutes
Renewable energy became a popular topic of concern within communities after Dorian.
FRIENDS had been in discussion with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) about solar projects in The Bahamas the summer before Hurricane Dorian. RMI is now working with government and utility agencies to advance solar micro-grids for critical facilities in Marsh Harbour. 60 minutes joined the RMI team to document the possibility of a more resilient and renewable power grid for the future, and FRIENDS lent our assistance to their teams during their time in Abaco.
Check it out here
Abaco Sunny Waters Initiative
The importance of access to freshwater in our communities became even more relevant after this natural disaster. We joined with partners from The Water and Sewerage Corporation of The Bahamas (WSC), UNICEF, Water Mission, The Goodness Tour, and Samaritan's Purse at the water pumping station in Marsh Harbour for the launch of the "Abaco Sunny Waters" Initiative, which will solarize well fields in Abaco.
January - March 2020 : R E C O V E R Y
As we were grounded with the many opportunities that came our way immediately after Dorian, we moved toward the beginning of our recovery. Each day, the needs of Abaco became clearer, and we gained a better idea of where we could add our expertise.
Mermaid Reef Cleanup
We partnered with Eco-Blue Projects and Dive Guana to clean up Mermaid Reef, a reef near and dear to our hearts and many others. In the process, we were able to invite some students from Long Bay School to help pull debris onto the land. Thank you to the Bahamian Environment Protection Foundation, the Devereux Ocean Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Global Giving and Moore Bahamas Foundation for making this cleanup and continued marine debris cleanup and related recovery efforts possible.
After School Club Volunteering
In February, our education team began volunteering at RISE Academy to teach their science after school club. We were able to reach about 60 kids for two days every week.
School Visits Resume
Our first school visits after Dorian began in South Abaco with marine mammal presentations in partnership with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). We also had our first field trip since the storm to Snake Cay mangroves with Long Bay School.
Puerto Rico Conference
Our Executive Director, Cha, and Outreach Coordinator, Lianna, were invited to attend the Clinton Global Initiative's Disaster Recovery meeting in Puerto Rico. Here, they made a plethora of connections with environmental and philanthropic organizations and learned about strategies for disaster recovery. Cha joined the Bahamas panel discussion highlighting the impact on youth and environmental needs in the wake of Dorian.
Palm Beach Reef Ball
Thanks to the generosity of many of our partners and donors, we were able to have our annual Reef Ball in Palm Beach. Here, we were able to mingle with many of our donors and friends of FRIENDS who are supporting our recovery. We are thankful for a successful event and for everyone who made this possible. The event was so much fun that we look forward to future Palm Beach events, while also 100% committed to bringing the Reef Ball home to Abaco.
WASH Curriculum Development
Our NEW Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Disaster Recovery (WASH & DRY) program curriculum was developed to teach students about the importance of freshwater in an island nation. This ties in with the "Abaco Sunny Waters" project happening on our island. We are planning to implement this program virtually in Abaco schools in the upcoming months. WASH and DRY is supported by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy's 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund, and curriculum development supported by Samaritan's Purse.

April - June 2020 : R E S I L I E N C E
Our resilience was proven once we began taking on projects in the midst of the continual hardship surrounding life on Abaco post-Dorian. We connected with national and international partners in efforts to begin restoration of natural resources.
Mangrove Restoration Project
Approximately 40% of mangroves were lost in Abaco from Hurricane Dorian. FRIENDS is partnering with Bonefish Tarpon Trust (BTT), the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and MANG to develop a Northern Bahamas Mangrove Restoration Project post-Dorian. We have committed to being a nursery site at our location in Marsh Harbour, as well as implement the education component with local students.
100k Tree Planting Initiative
FRIENDS has formed a partnership with The Sustainable Lifestyle to plant 100,000 trees in The Bahamas before 2030. The goal of this initiative is education, community involvement and of course, planting more trees! The goal for Abaco alone is to plant 17,500 trees.
Social Media Earth Day
During COVID lockdowns, we advertised a multi-day "Earth Day Challenge" on our social media platforms. This included doing a plastic audit, going zero waste for a day, arts and crafts and even planting a tree! Seeing the responses from a lot of our former students was encouraging.
July - September 2020 : G R A T I T U D E
As we moved into the summer months, we began getting back to our roots. Educational programs like our virtual summer camp were developed as we endured new COVID restrictions, we re-established ourselves in the Kenyon Centre and received a generous donation to aid in implementation of our future programs. These months felt like a great period of encouragement, with an overwhelming sense of sincere gratitude for the progress we were making.
Virtual Summer Camp
Our education team compiled our first ever virtual program for this year's summer camp. We provided activity kits for each camper beforehand and ended up reaching over 40 kids, ages 3-16. This was a great experience for us and we loved seeing familiar faces and meeting new campers!
Kenyon Centre
Moving back into Kenyon Centre
FRIENDS has moved back into the Kenyon Centre and we're using it as a temporary office and program facility. Our next steps are to replace our solar array, as well as continuing to repair damages caused by Dorian. We are grateful to Samaritan's Purse who were our amazing tenants from October to July.
YachtAid Global Supplies for Future Programs
As mentioned earlier, YAG has been a huge part of relief efforts since right after Dorian, helping to source and deliver school supplies to those in need. In late summer we received a generous donation of supplies that will help us to be able to implement our programs once again. We are grateful for this donation that replaces what was lost in Dorian, and has additional materials to enhance our
future programs.
In the Upcoming Months: R E B U I L D

As we continue to move forward, we are hopeful for the future of our organization. In the upcoming months, we will be taking action to rebuild our home base in Marsh Harbour while continuing our programs and ongoing engagements with partners. We are so grateful for the many partners, donors, and grantors who have helped us get to this place. We value each and every one of you and we look forward to continuing to make positive change for Abaco's environment and people. Our founders have inspired us to be stewards of our environment, spreading awareness in our local and national communities to protect our natural resources. With pride for our island we will stay true to our mission of preserving the environment of Abaco, The Bahamas through education, conservation, and research facilitation. 

Photo credit to "The Christian Science Monitor"
A letter from our Executive Director

As I reflect on this past year I feel a bit emotional, and those tears that were once frequent are again finding their way back as I remember those days of complete overwhelm following Dorian. 

They were confusing times; emotions that so many of us shared as we faced personal loss and the devastation of our beautiful island home. Confusing, because in the face of adversity, as we pulled together and regrouped, the greatest emotions were of hope and gratitude. With the outpouring of care and concern from so many, it was impossible not to be hopeful and feel grateful. 
We have been extremely thankful for all of you, our FRIENDS' family, who reached out and supported us. This past year will not be forgotten. There has been tremendous growth in the organisation with an amazing team embracing the challenges of moving forward. Opportunity became my word and action of choice, and knowing that Abaco needed FRIENDS, maybe more than ever before, we were able to embrace opportunities that helped with relief, recovery and now rebuilding efforts. 

We are alchemists of our future, transforming “what is” for the better. We are excited for all of you to join us on this journey forward as we rebuild with the determination of transforming “what was” and making it even better.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for “being there”. Because of all of you, our dedicated FRIENDS' family, we know we will come back stronger, continuing to teach the next generations about the importance of conservation and ensuring the protection of Abaco’s incredible and diverse environment that we all love. 


Cha Boyce

Friends of the Environment | 301 W. Atlantic Avenue, Suite 0-5, Delray Beach, FL 33444