PVAMU Helps Sustain Bahamian Students in Wake of Hurricane Dorian

Front row (left to right): Stanraj Knowles, Cordell Bain, Loran Bailey, and Rhon Adderley. Back row (left to right): Stanico Knowles, Jabari Roberts, David Burrows, and Clevans Rolle.

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas (November 25, 2019) – As Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas on Sept. 1, it also spun a storm of concern and worry 1,100 miles away for 17 Prairie View A&M University students who are from the islands.

“Well, looking at the news and looking at the state of the country via videos and phone calls from family back home, I could see that it was very rough. Seeing all the floods and people losing their homes, people lost everything basically,” said Carlano Bain, a senior music education major from Nassau, Bahamas. “For a minute, it was hard to focus in class because we were too worried about if our family was safe and stuff like that. So, it was kind of a setback.”

Dorian ravaged the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama as the strongest hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas at a Category 5. Dozens were killed, while tens of thousands were displaced as the intense storm wreaked massive devastation on housing, infrastructure, and communication. Bain experienced loss in his family.

“One of my cousins lived in Freeport, Grand Bahama. She lost her home. One of my other cousins – her husband actually died in the hurricane,” shared Bain, who is a four-year member of PVAMU’s Marching Storm. “So, it forced some of my family to migrate to the capital of the Bahamas to live with some of my other family members.”

Marching Storm drum major Jabari Roberts’ grandparents lived in Cooperstown, Abaco.

“Their home was destroyed due to the hurricane. They now reside with my mother and my father back home on the main island of Nassau, Bahamas,” Roberts said.

The urgency of taking in family members to survive the crisis in the Bahamas created a financial disaster for the Bahamian students attending Prairie View.

“Resources were being funded towards them, so that means resources towards us were cut down, more or less,” Bain said. “That’s how it affected us. Our family members had to pool up limited resources so they could survive.”

When administrators in Student Affairs found out about what was going on with the students and their families, they began to explore how they could help.

“Everyone saw it on the news, and we knew we had quite a few Bahamian students attending Prairie View,” said Eveadean Myers, director of the Office of International Programs.

So, Myers coordinated three meetings with the students. At the first meeting, many of the students had not been able to talk with anyone at home due to downed telephone lines. She created a survey for them after speaking with Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Timothy Sams and meeting with Dean of Students Steve Ransom.

In the survey, students were able to express what their needs were, “So we could try to see how we could meet their needs,” said Myers.

Ransom knew the situation created a new dynamic on financial resources with the loss of electricity and technology and relatives being forced to move to other locations.

“Parents were having to double or even triple the size of their families to make sure everyone was safe. That impacted their ability to provide for their students at Prairie View,” Ransom said.

The students were candid in the survey, revealing their greatest needs were necessities, such as water, food, toiletries, toothpaste, and toilet paper. Myers escorted many of them to the Hilltop Reserve, which operates a food pantry and clothing boutique that is no cost to students. During the walkover, is when she learned about how dire things were for them.

“I asked them, ‘Why didn’t you come [to] tell us that you needed these things?’ And they said that in their culture, they were raised to not ask for things and make do the best way possible,” Myers recalled.

Meanwhile, the dean of students didn’t wait for them to ask about their tuition installments.

“From a university standpoint, we looked to address any balances they may have had and tried to impact them as best as we could,” Ransom said.  “Beyond that, we talked to the students about things they personally needed.”

Prairie View has a supportive relationship with the Bahamas, which began in 1973—the year the island became an independent nation. To mark the occasion, then-President Alvin I. Thomas offered 24 scholarships for Bahamian students to study at PVAMU.

Dr. Timmey Zachery, director of bands, continues that long-standing tradition and history. He said 15 of the 17 Bahamian students at PVAMU are members of the Marching Storm and receive band scholarships.

“It affected us all because these students are a part of our lives, and we’re a part of their lives. And to hear the devastation that some of the family members experienced in Abaco and other places in the Bahamas was especially disheartening,” Zachery shared. “We did as much as we could. We all gave privately.”

Zachery said the band scholarships the students were awarded assured their financial obligations were not a burden.

“We make sure that if we invite them here to be a part of the band program, we take care of them as much as possible,” Zachery said. “So, most of them didn’t have a whole lot of financial debt with the University to begin with.”

Zachery said 80-percent of the Bahamian students in the band are graduating within the year, and their resiliency is helping them strive in spite of the Dorian disaster.

“They’ve proven that to me time and time again, even with all the storms in their lives, they are here for the program, they are here for the school, and they take care of their responsibilities…daily. I have nothing but respect for Bahama land,” Zachery said.

And the more than 350 members of the Marching Storm are also impressed by the character and tenacity of their Bahamian band mates.

“A band student came to me and said I wasn’t showing any sign of weakness, even though there was a tragedy back home,” drum major Roberts recalled. “And they [were] like, they really appreciate me being here, even though everything back home was occurring. So, they really [were] showing love.”

Bain said before they reached out to the University for help, he and his fellow Bahamians leaned on each other.

“A lot of us have bills, whether it’s school bills, rent, light bills, or whatever. So, we just try to pool up whatever resources we have to try and make ends meet,” he said.

And they still need their Prairie View family to help them maintain the basics.

“Water, toiletries, anything would be a help. Anything is greatly appreciated,” Bain said. “And, we are so appreciative of everything that has been done so far.”

To support PVAMU’s Bahamian students, contact Eveadean Myers, executive director of International Programs, at (936) 261-2119 or email her at emmyers@pvamu.edu. For monetary donations, contact the Office of Development at (936) 261-1550 or online at giving.pvamu.edu.

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By Michael Douglas