Education

For days, St. Aug’s students feared for their Bahamian homeland. Now, they aim to help.

For six days, Lavar Stubbs didn’t know whether his friend from high school was dead or alive. His friend Jaron lives in The Bahamas on Great Abaco Island, which was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian and hit again by Hurricane Humberto days later.

Celine Jones didn’t hear from her mother for two days. Her family was riding out the hurricane boarded up in their home in Freeport, Grand Bahama, an island that’s still suffering from Dorian’s wrath.

Steven Grant, also from Freeport, wasn’t able to reach his family while the storm tore through his hometown.

Stubbs, Jones and Grant — all Bahamian students at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh — anxiously waited for phone calls. Between classes they scoured through rescue lists searching for the names of friends and family members. They watched videos of violent waters rushing through their neighborhoods and people begging for help. They heard heartbreaking voicemails of the few who could find a signal.

“There was just terror in people’s hearts,” said Stubbs, a junior at Saint Augustine’s who’s from Nassau.

“To be honest with you I couldn’t really focus and think,” said Grant, a St. Aug’s freshman. “Not being able to reach your family and stuff was the worst part. I lost a few cousins and some close, close friends.”

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Destruction from Hurricane Dorian at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

Jones, a senior, said that in the few classes she sat though, she was there physically, but not mentally.

“Every other story was tears and tears,” Jones said. “I didn’t even realize you could cry that much. Mentally it was terrible. It was turmoil.”

For Stubbs, some relief came when he got a text from his friend of a praying hands emoji and the words “we alright,” he said. But even two weeks after the storm hit, Stubbs didn’t know if his friend had been evacuated or staying in a shelter.

“It’s a troubling feeling,” Stubbs said.

The storm has passed, but for these students the devastation lingers 750 miles away on campus. At Saint Augustine’s, a small private historically black college, about 8% percent of the student body is Bahamian.

“It’s changed the climate of our days,” Stubbs said. “You spend a few hours a day just thinking, ‘Oh my God, did that really happen?’”

‘Compelled’ to help

Kade Bodie, a 21-year-old senior said he never considered himself to have problems with anxiety. But that changed with this hurricane.

“I’d say I slept maybe five to six hours in like three or four days,” Bodie said. “I was totally zoned out of classes.”

Saint Augustine’s University has had a strong relationship with The Bahamas for decades and even has an alumni association chapter in the Bahamas. Many students are personally recruited by alumni in the Bahamas, and some follow in their parents’ footsteps. Several students and alumni have also run on the track team for the highly decorated coach George Williams.

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Bahamian students at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh are hosting a concert and donation drive to support The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Provided by Lavar Stubbs

[The Bahamas] supported us and have sent students here. It’s our duty, we have to give back to them,” said Saint Augustine’s spokeswoman Kimberly Williams Moore. “It goes back to the small campus. Everyone knows everybody and feels the pain when something traumatic happens.”

Many of the Bahamian students will go home for winter break to an unrecognizable island. They say they are scared but eager to return. They want to help rebuild and restore their communities. And they’re starting now.

The students are partnering with the university to host a relief concert and supply drive at Emery Gymnasium on Friday night.

Local Bahamian band Baja Nation will be performing, food trucks will be selling Caribbean food and the students are collecting everything from canned goods to diapers to first aid items from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. They’re also accepting monetary donations.

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Lavar Stubbs is a St. Augustine University student from the Bahamas who shared his experience of watching Hurricane Dorian from afar and his plans to help his friends and family recover, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Raleigh, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Jones also set up a separate donation drive specifically for women in the Bahamas and is collecting feminine hygiene products and other toiletries.

“These people are starting from zero, so they need everything,” Stubbs said. “Staying over here and seeing the travesty is just heartbreaking, and any support helps.”

The students also feel a sense of survivor’s guilt, they said.

“Here I am in the dorm and the cafe, [air-conditioning] 24-7,” Bodie said. “While my relatives are out trying to survive [with] no food for like 4 or 5 days. And here I am living my best life almost while my family, my friends and my fellow country men are down to the clothes on their back.”

As president of the International Student Organization, Stubbs also feels a responsibility to help the students and his friends on campus who have been affected. More than half of the students in that group are Bahamian, he said.

One of his main goals is to start an emergency fund that will support struggling students financially for at least the rest of the year.

Now, many of them don’t have money to go to the store or a restaurant to get something to eat with friends, Stubbs said, and they’re probably not going to say anything.

“Today and tomorrow, we got to look out for them constantly,” Stubbs said. “It is affecting everybody here.”

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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