Oliver White on Hurricane Dorian, raising $500,000 for Abaco, and how to help the Bahamas rebuild.
“When I flew into Abaco in November, there was complete devastation. All the trees were down. Debris fields and blue tarps everywhere. It looked like you were flying into a war zone.”
Hurricane Dorian was the strongest storm in recorded history to make landfall in the Bahamas. It was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 185 mph. You’d see these pockets of total destruction from tornadoes that spun out of the hurricane.
The Bahamas was incredibly ill-prepared for anything of this magnitude. The official death toll stands at 67 but almost everyone on the island will tell you it’s in the hundreds, if not thousands, of dead and missing.
Photo by Brian Irwin
Abaco Lodge: The Desire to Help
I moved to Abaco in 2008 to build Abaco Lodge and made it my home. I met my wife there. We live in the states now but all of her family is on the island. Island life is such that, even if you don’t know everyone by name, you recognize everyone’s face.
From those experiences, my partners in the lodge and I had a real desire to help. We didn’t know what was going to be needed, but I thought we could help navigate what’s going on in the country and put money in the hands of good people doing good work.
Oliver’s Fishy Friends
The people that fish with us are as much friends as they are clients. Right after the storm hit on September 1, people were already reaching out asking how they could help. We started the Abaco Lodge Hurricane Dorian Relief campaign on GoFundMe.com and it took on a life of its own. My initial ambition was to raise $100,000, but we very quickly exceeded that.
Donations came from everywhere: clients, friends, and the industry. Brands that I work with—Costa, YETI, G. Loomis, and Howler Brothers—all contributed directly. Currently on GoFundMe, we’re just shy of 400K, and if you add what people have donated directly, we’ve raised a little more than half a million dollars.
I fundamentally think the best thing you can do in the Bahamas is put money directly in the hands of people who need it. We did that for our staff and immediately sent everyone $3,000. We are going to pay everyone who has worked for us for a year $2,000 a month for the rest of the year, so they’ll each get $25K from the money we raised to help rebuild their homes and lives.
Nonprofits in the Area
We also found a couple of incredible nonprofits doing good work there. One of those is called All Hands and Hearts, and they’re committed to being on the island for two years rebuilding schools and public centers. We donated $50,000 to them.
As we talked to people on the ground, another name that came up constantly was Team Rubicon, which is a 501(c)(3) veterans’ organization. After a hurricane, you need to rip out all the drywall, insulation, and treat for mold. They’ve gone home to home, fixing roofs, ripping everything out. When they leave, the homes are habitable and ready to be rebuilt. They’ve been doing great work. We gave them an additional $20,000.
Air Flight, the charter company, was the first one doing relief flights and evacuations. We gave them $10,000 to help cover their fuel bill. We also gave $2,500 for a toy drive organized by one of our employees to get the kids on Abaco some Christmas presents.
The Recovery Process: It’s going to take years, not months
We plan to keep the GoFundMe campaign live because the recovery process is going to take years, not months. While the outpouring of early support was incredible, in six months from now there will still be a need. As long as people are willing to support it, we will continue to direct resources and funds as best we can.”
Oliver White is a guide and partner in Abaco Lodge and Bair’s Lodge on South Andros. He is also a YETI and Costa Del Mar ambassador and co-founder of Indifly, a nonprofit that helps indigenous communities create sustainable income through fly fishing and low-impact tourism.
This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Stonefly Magazine.