UM community unites to help Bahamas

Students donate water bottles to the CSA and Multicultural Student Affairs supplies drive. The groups held the collection event Sept. 10 at the Rock Plaza, and will host another at the same location on Friday. Photo credit: Rohama Bruk

Hurricane Dorian spared South Florida, but that doesn’t mean the University of Miami forgot about those who were not so lucky. In the week since the category 5 storm devastated the Bahamas, several collections have sprung up around campus, all aimed at bringing relief to communities affected by the hurricane.

And these communities need all the help they can get, said Katya Saunders, the Bahamian Student Association president and a Bahamas native.

“The conditions I’ve heard in Marsh Harbour are horrible, rotting bodies and a terrible stench,” Saunders said of one of the towns devastated by the hurricane. “As a small country, we’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.”

Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the northwestern Bahamas Sept. 1, becoming the strongest storm in modern record to impact the region. Incredibly strong winds, storm surges and rainfall destroyed homes, businesses and communities, displacing an estimated 70,000 Bahamians.

That’s why the UM community is rushing to help.

Students donate water bottles to the CSA and Multicultural Student Affairs supplies drive. The groups held the collection event Sept. 10 at the Rock Plaza, and will host another at the same location on Friday. Photo credit: Rohama Bruk

On Sept. 4, President Julio Frenk sent out a university-wide email announcing the launch of “The U Responds: Hurricane Dorian Relief,” a fundraising effort for Bahamians and all those affected by Hurricane Dorian. UM’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations is heading the collection, targeting all members of the Canes community who may be able to help.

“I am asking all Canes to step up and help support Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in any way you can,” President Frenk wrote in a message to all students. This recovery effort will be long and difficult. Please help our Bahamian neighbors and keep them and others affected by Dorian in your thoughts.”

Josh Friedman, the senior vice president for development and alumni relations, explained that the university has an incredible capital of people who can aid in recovery and support of the Bahamas.

“We have expertise that could be useful and medical response talent that is much needed,” Friedman said.

Donations to the Hurricane Dorian Response fund directly support the of both efforts UM and partner organizations.

Besides the university administration, several student organizations have also initiated campaigns. The BSA and the Caribbean Student Association teamed up to run university-wide supplies collections.

Students participate in the supplies drive Sept. 10 at the Rock Plaza. The event was hosted by the CSA and Multicultural Student Affairs. Photo credit: Rohama Bruk

Saunders said she organized the event so she can participate in relief efforts, even though she’s away from home and can’t help first hand.

“We need all the help we can get,” she said. “I know that it’s all going to go to a good cause, one that is desperately in need of assistance”

Saunders, who is a senior public relations major, said it’s been stressful organizing collection efforts while also juggling schoolwork, an internship and worries about her community back home. But, she said her work is well worth the effort.

“As Bahamians, we have to stick together and we have to be there for each other,” Saunders said. “Our country is so small and close-knight. I’m very proud of all the outreach that’s been done to help Bahamians by Bahamians, especially the younger members of our community.”

Heidi Carr, a School of Communication professor and the adviser of the Public Relations Student Society of America, said her organization also sprung into action after she learned about the storm’s effects on the Caribbean.

Carr said she was watching the news when she came up with the idea for a supplies drive. She immediately sent out a text to the PRSSA executive board to find out if its members wanted to take on the project. Every one of them immediately answered yes, Carr said.

With the help of AdGroup, another SOC student organization, the collection boxes and posters were in place before students returned to classes Wednesday, Sept. 4.

“We’re encouraging all students in the School of Communication to contribute,” Carr wrote in an email. “They don’t have to be members of the clubs, and I believe a lot of professors have agreed to give the students extra credit for bringing in a donation.”

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The flyer for the PRSSA and AdGroup collection drive

The PRSSA, like many other student organizations, is collecting everything from canned food and water to sunscreen and diapers. Vivian Orellana, a receptionist in the SOC’s Academic Services office, said she and her colleagues reached out to different departments at UM to gather supplies. They sourced surplus backpacks and other UM-themed gear from previous years. While Orellana acknowledged that there is always more to be done in the relief effort, she said every bit counts.

“Don’t feel bad if you only have one thing or three cans,” Orellana said. “If you have one bottle of water, bring it… [helping those in need] should be natural for us.”

The student government ECO Agency, UM athletics department, United Black Students and the Herbert Wellness Center are also asking UM students, staff and faculty to donate items to benefit Bahamians. These organizations are working with the CSA and the BSA to pool their items and help with packaging and organization.

Natalia Brown, who helped organize the ECO Agency’s supply drive, said she saw how students’ excess hurricane supplies could be funneled into extending the reach of her two main goals as a member of the ECO Agency board: minimizing landfill contributions and taking action to address health and wealth disparities.

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One of several collections around campus, the ECO Agency is gathering supplies until Sept. 13 for the Bahamas in the Student Government suite. Photo credit: Natalia Rovira

“As the raging storm was declared stagnant over the Abaco islands, we organized our ideas to start a collection that would bring together the UM community under this cause that, quite literally, hit close to home,” Brown said.

Collections for the ECO Agency drive will end this Thursday, Sept. 12, at midnight.

Saunders called the outpouring of support from UM comforting, saying “it helps to know you’re in a community that cares.”

“Knowing that I am walking on this campus and other Bahamians are walking on this campus and other people are aware of what’s going on in our home and they want to help us, it helps a lot,” she said.

But Saunders had one request for the UM community. She asked students and faculty to remember the Bahamas after the initial dust has settled. Many people who are not directly affected by a tragedy are quick to forget the devastation, she said.

But the Bahamas are going to need support for more than just a few weeks. The community will be reeling from Hurricane Dorian for much of the foreseeable future.

“Keep doing what you can,” Saunders said. “Don’t stop until every person is housed and back on their feet.”

Jayda Graham, Anna Timmons, Natalia Rovira and Benjamin Estrada and Emmalyse Brownstein contributed to this reporting.