Bahamian Students Raise Money, Aid to Send to Bahamas

Tenaj Russell (left),  Imani Lewis (middle) and Leandra Russell (right) pack supplies Sept. 25 to send the Bahamas.

A few days after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas Sept. 1-3, four Bahamian students began a relief effort project with the goal of helping to rebuild their community.

Born and raised in the Bahamas, junior Tenaj Russell has lived through several hurricanes, including Hurricanes Jeanne, Matthew and Irma.  However, Hurricane Dorian, which struck on the Labor Day weekend, was unprecedented and stressful to her, not only because of the scale of the disaster but especially because she was away from her family.  

''My immediate family, my mother and my younger brother live in Grand Bahama, one of the regions most affected by the hurricane. Our house has some flood damage,” Tenaj Russell said. “The rest of my family lost basically everything.’’

Hurricane Dorian killed 50 people in the Bahamas, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 1,300 people were still missing as of Sept. 15 and approximately 2,100 people are spread between 10 temporary shelters.

Tenaj Russell decided to do something to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of some of the thousands of people affected by the disaster, she said. Along with three fellow Bahamians,  senior Leandra Russell, senior Imani Lewis and alumna Ashlene Lightbourne, Tenaj Russell started a relief effort on campus.  

"At first, I had a little hesitation about this idea since I am not a famous person on campus,” Leandra Russell said. “Then, I am not a part of any student organization. However, doing this project will have been a form of therapy for me, a way to release stress."

The International Students Offices took over the role of collecting the items and promoting the project to the UA community.

‘’I thought people would not be inclined to help. Surprisingly, many people start to donate items the very following days,’’ Leandra Russell said. ‘’It has been a great feeling. That gives me great satisfaction, and I am very grateful’’ she added. 

In addition to UA students and staff, several Fayetteville residents made material and financial contributions, Leandra Russell said.

Groceries, cleaning supplies, toiletries and clothes are among the items collected during the two-week fundraiser, Tenaj Russell said. The donations have been shipped to Florida and will arrive at the final destination, Grand Bahama, by the beginning of October.

The donation will directly benefit the people on the island of Grand Bahama, where a church will organize kit distribution, Tenaj Russell said.

Tenaj Russell has been able to stay in touch with her family by telephone, she said. Her family spent three days in a temporary shelter before returning to their damaged home.

"Many people have realized that the devastation was so bad, and they don't want to go back home,” Tenaj Russell said. “I am definitely going to go back home. Someone has to start the rebuild process to help us get back on our feet.''

Leandra Russell is optimistic about the future of the Bahamas, she said.  

"I believe the Bahamas will bounce back,” Leandra Russell said. “My goal is to return to my country and help rebuild my community.”

Obed Lamy is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler

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