After category five Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas over Labor Day weekend, a group of undergraduate and graduate students gathered in the Emory Student Center (ESC) on Sept. 6 to discuss the struggles their families, friends and country were facing. Although those on the island have been donating clothes, helping with cleanup, distributing food and opening spaces for those who lost their homes, Rebecca Henderson (21C), Luke Carey (23C), Tyler Russel (22C), Tiara Ndlovu (19Ox, 21C), Gianne Ifill (22C), Sujith Swarna (19C), Raaven Goffe (25M) and Cedric Bowe (25M) decided to aid the country by fundraising on GoFundMe.
Born and raised in the Bahamas, Henderson, Carey, Russel and Ndlovu were devastated by Dorian’s damage. Although their families were not directly impacted, as Dorian had mostly spared their islands, the students still felt a strong urge to help their country in this time of need.
“[The] Bahamas is so used to hurricanes,” Henderson said. “We know how to handle this stuff. But this is a catastrophe that’s beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination.”
Despite the devastation, island residents have made efforts for relief and recovery. Henderson pointed to the New Providence Community Church, which is collecting items and shipping them to affected areas, and HeadKnowles, a leading hurricane relief and fundraising organization that for the Bahamian islands. Several schools in New Providence have also welcomed students from other islands, offering lower admission fees and scholarships.
“It’s definitely devastating to see what’s happened, but at the same time it renews your pride in your country,” Carey said. “It’s just been amazing to see everyone come together through so much division … joining hands and helping each other despite our differences.”
Russel reached out to every Bahamian Emory student he knew, and during their Sept. 6 meeting, they launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe. Soon after, they contacted the Emory College social media accounts to promote the fundraiser on their Instagram story. The project aims to collect money for HeadKnowles to help with hurricane relief.
“We would like to help in any way that we can when we can’t be there … [but] if we can provide [HeadKnowles] with a little bit of money, we’re happy to do whatever we can,” Russel said.
The involved students have shared the GoFundMe page on their personal social media accounts to increase the range of possible donors, but the main source of fundraising has come from members of the Emory community.
After just five days, they had amassed over $8,000 from over 100 donors. Just a few minutes after the GoFundMe page went live with its $10,000 goal, the first donation rolled in. Henderson and Ndlovu both expressed that they had not expected to receive this much money. So far, the group has consistently received $1,500 in donations each day.
“I don’t know if I have fully processed what we have done so far, like the fact that we have had this GoFundMe that has been so successful,” Ndlovu said.
Ndlovu had been making stickers to spread awareness without knowing the efforts that other Bahamian students were doing. Henderson saw them online and asked Ndlovu if they could sell them to raise funds. Each sticker sold for two dollars, but multiple students paid more. They printed 100 stickers and sold out within an hour. One of the stickers features the Hope Town lighthouse, which remains standing despite the devastation, and the country’s national motto “Forward, Upward, Onward Together.”
The students plan to continue selling stickers and spreading awareness for the cause during upcoming Wonderful Wednesdays. They will also hang flyers across campus. The flyers will bear a QR code that leads to the GoFundMe page.
Although the group originally decided to give their GoFundMe donations to the Atlanta Consulate General of the Bahamas, they grew wary of trusting the Bahamian government. Ndlovu had become familiar with the organization HeadKnowles after her family was affected by 2015 tropical cyclone Hurricane Joaquin, and she suggested donating the money to the group.
“[The Bahamian] government is slightly corrupt, so we decided that we do not want to trust the government,” Henderson emphasized. “Who we do trust is the community, and HeadKnowles is the most organic community that is present right now.”
Unlike other organizations, HeadKnowles will provide Henderson and her group with records on the organization’s spending of the GoFundMe proceeds.
Although they do not have a say in what the money goes toward, Henderson and Carey both admitted to the difficulty of identifying the priorities. Carey recognized that some resources should be valued before others.
“Just seeing what’s been going on, [my priority] would be medical aid because of the number of injuries,” Carey said. “I think food and water are also extremely important … [because] the rations that I’ve been seeing are just ridiculously small.”
The group will continue to fundraise through the end of September and will likely send their proceeds to HeadKnowles when donations slow down.
Henderson recognized the past few weeks as a period of reconnection to her native country.
“Having this happen and seeing my own reaction, just how involuntarily emotionally affected I was, made me realize how I’m still in love with my country,” Henderson said. “Then seeing the community being built up everywhere, I was like, ‘Wow, my country is beautiful. The people are incredible.’”