CONWAY, Ark. — Dozens of Bahamian citizens watched their country suffer during Hurricane Dorian while they sat comfortably in Conway. They quickly decided they needed to act, both to support their home islands and to support each other.
“We watched it destroy the island of Abaco in the Bahamas,” Antone Evans recalled. “And then, it literally, we watched it sit over the island of Grand Bahama for almost 12 hours and we just sat here, hopeless, like, ‘what is there for us to do?’”
Evans and other members of the Caribbean Students Association at the University of Central Arkansas hosted a candlelight vigil Monday night to honor those lost in the hurricane. UCA has 64 Bahamian students currently enrolled, and many of them attended the vigil. They prayed together, sang a song of faith and hope, and heard from UCA leaders about the university’s commitment to them.
“This,” UCA President Houston Davis said, “is really about making certain that they know that they’ve got a community here at UCA that’s for them, that loves them, and wants to make certain to be with them whatever that support looks like.”
Evans said, strange as it may sound, he wishes he was in the Bahamas instead of in Conway when Hurricane Dorian hit. He said he had friends who had not heard from their families until this weekend, seven days after the storm arrived.
“’Is my family okay? If my family isn’t okay?’ And it’s like, if I was there—of course, I would’ve been seeing the devastation,” Evans added, “but I would’ve known. And it’s just not knowing. The not knowing hurts a lot.”
Evans said his family came out of Dorian okay. His grandmother and a close friend lost their homes on Grand Bahama, and his friend told him she was only able to take a backpack full of clothes when she evacuated. But as he and his friends watched the islands suffer, they had to find a way to use their sadness for good.
“In that wake, it gave us the opportunity to give back to our country,” Evans said, “and to show that, yeah, we are all the way in Arkansas, in the middle of nowhere, but we still are Bahamians and we’re still going to give back.”
The Caribbean Students Association started a collection drive on campus. It has boxes in each resident hall for people to donate items of need, such as toiletries, towels, blankets, clothing, and shoes. It is also accepting cash donations, and both the money and supplies will be sent to the Bahamas.
“We are literally just asking everybody to, if you’re willing, just give us anything,” Evans said. “If you have old clothes, you have some money under your couch, lying around, just donate it. Five, 10 dollars; it will go a long way.”
Evans has been through this before. Monday’s vigil brought back memories of a similar event on campus in October 2016 when Hurricane Matthew hit the Bahamas.
“We felt way worse than we do now,” Evans stated, “because we know how to deal with it now. Kind of. Cope with it. But, now it’s just us showing that support to the new freshmen, showing them that we’re here for them and we support them.”
“And though they may literally be hundreds and hundreds of miles from home, they’re not alone here,” Davis said. “They’ve got a lot of friends and neighbors, and really, they’re UCA family’s gonna be there for them, too.”
Davis said UCA has provided counselors for its Bahamian students and will provide them whatever help it can--financial or otherwise.
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