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Social media call out helps re-connect rural clinic in Abaco

Like much of the Bahama island nation, Abaco was nearly obliterated when Category 5 Hurricane Dorian slashed through the Bahamas.

September 24, 2019

Above: Some the staff and volunteers of the Coopers Town Community Clinic pose with disaster response staff from Humanity First. (Photo courtesy Coopers Town Clinic)

Ingo Haraldsson, of Icelandic Search and Rescue and a member of the NetHope disaster response team, working to get the Coopers Town Community Clinic back online.

The area of Coopers Town, a small outpost at the north end of Grand Abaco in the Bahamas, is a tight-knit community with the Coopers Town Community Clinic serving as the central core for its healthcare needs. But the clinic is also a touchpoint for the community’s contact with the rest of the world, which underscores the importance of connectivity.

Like much of the Bahama island nation, Abaco was nearly obliterated when Category 5 Hurricane Dorian slashed through the Bahamas. The clinic, responsible for the healthcare of an area normally containing more than 4,000 people—including many elderly and undocumented Haitian immigrants—was still standing but was without power and therefore cut off from communicating with the outside world.

Despite lack of power, the staff of the clinic, along with a band of dedicated volunteers, rallied and worked to rehabilitate the building, drying out and cleaning up while still trying to treat those needing help. HARP (Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project), a Texas-based humanitarian nonprofit, and Humanity First, an international aid organization, landed on Abaco a week after Dorian to provide direct assistance, but it was clear given the extent of damages, that communications were not returning any time soon. The clinic’s satellite phones were prone to problems and they couldn’t upload or download files, not even a photo or simple image, without having to travel south to nearby Marsh Harbor.

On September 14, NetHope posted on its social media feeds about its deployment to set up communications for first responders and communities affected by the hurricane. Kristin Smith, a Midwest-based volunteer with HARP, knowing of the connectivity loss the clinic was dealing with, reached out to NetHope through Facebook asking if any assistance could be provided. NetHope Director of Membership Alexandra Alpert saw the request and NetHope was able to quickly coordinate its team.

“I reached out to see if the clinic (could be connected) and Alex reached back to me,” says Smith. “The next thing I knew, NetHope had a team at the clinic!”

NetHope team members Ingo Haraldsson from Icelandic Search and Rescue, and Don Sarver, a partner from Amazon Web Services, arrived to set up the network and get the clinic back online. This allowed Smith to continue working with her team and coordinate recovery efforts at the clinic.

“We cannot express our gratitude and thanks in words—communication has been such an uphill battle,” noted Smith. “Your organization made all the difference for this community today.”

NetHope continues to provide the powerline of connectivity for other sites located throughout the Bahamas. But the requests currently outstrip equipment and staff availability. Please help us continue this vital work by donating today.

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