Bahamas relief supplies collected on campus have arrived in the West Indies nation after deadly Hurricane Dorian stranded many and left a JSU Bahamian student heartbroken last month when an estimated 40-foot wave snatched her aunt from a coconut tree the family had climbed to escape rising floodwaters. Her body hadn’t been found.
Jackson State University’s International Student Association partnered with the LeFleur’s Bluff Chapter of The Links Inc. to help those impacted by the historic storm. A service organization called Peace and Pearls also donated items.
In addition, a number of JSU international students, who represent more than 60 countries, aided in the collection of toiletries donated by students, faculty, staff and the community. Among them was doctoral student Tameka Stewart of Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama.IMMEDIATELY after the storm struck, Stewart reached out to the International Student Association to organize a Bahamas relief effort. After connecting with Shameka Reed, international marketing and recruitment specialist for JSU Global, she learned that the group already had been planning a relief drive for weeks.
The collaboration worked out because Stewart, studying behavioral health in JSU’s School of Public Health, added a face to the horrific conditions on her native island off the Florida coast.
She recounted the trauma and tragedy that resulted from Dorian.
“I’m from the island that was hit last and where the storm sat for two days. It first hit Abaco and devasted that island. It was pretty much flat-lined. Many people died – over a couple thousands – in spite of the reports. Many have not been found,” Stewart said.
“When it came to Freeport where I’m from my mother lost everything. The house structures are still standing, but everything was washed up from the surges. My auntie lost her life. My Aunt Daisy and Uncle Patrick were on their roof waiting for boats to come. It got so bad that when the surges came – Uncle Patrick said it was a 40-foot wave – they were able to climb into a coconut tree. They stayed there for three days,” she explained.
“After the second wave, Daisy couldn’t hold on any longer and could not swim. We have not located Daisy’s body,” said a tearful Stewart, pausing to control her emotions. “She is considered dead because of the time and what happened. This is my personal story, but I’ve heard lots of other stories.”
Immediately, Stewart joined the effort already underway by Reed and the International Student Association.
“I wanted to collaborate with her because I had some material I wanted to get out to Jackson State. This has been really hard. It’s the worst ever in our country.” Stewart said. “I want to thank Jackson State and Mississippi, in general.”MEANWHILE, Reed acknowledged support from The Links, Peace and Pearls and campus participants.
“They wanted to do something impactful to help out with the effort in the Bahamas after the recent devastation.”
She said JSU has almost a half-dozen students from the Bahamas. “Their families have definitely been impacted by the storm. Emotionally, it’s getting better day by day. But it’s as best as can be expected. They feel helpless. They’re upset because their dad, mom and other relatives just need simple things such as water. It’s definitely having an emotional effect,” Reed said.
Andrew Evans-Onwujurum of Nigeria was one of the many volunteers with the International Student Association. He’s from a part of the world that has seen its own struggles, so he understands the importance of extending a helping hand. “I love reaching out to help our brothers and sisters in the Bahamas who have been affected by this hurricane disaster,” he said.
Linda Smith, vice president of the LeFleur’s organization, said, “All Links chapters throughout the United States are doing this. Whatever we can do we want to give back. We thank JSU for partnering with us to send needed items to the Bahamas.” Brinkley Middle School and Mount Helm Baptist Church assisted the local chapter with collections, and the School of Public Health supported its student (Stewart) and her efforts to ease burdens in her homeland.
Yolanda Ratcliff, a JSU alum and founder of Peace and Pearls, showed up with a supporter who helped deliver bags of toiletries that included toothpaste. Peace and Pearls is a group that lets single parents know “you can make it,” Ratcliff said.
Ratcliff understands the pain of loss and inconvenience because she, too, has experienced the aftermath of a disaster. In 2011, her Clinton home was damaged by a tornado. “I know what it’s like not to have toothpaste, water and lights when your normal way of life is taken away from you instantly. So, I am compelled to give back,” she said.