Local students help shelter those battered by the storm back home.

September 17, 2019

      Nolan Sweeting knew he'd be attending St. Augustine's University before he even knew where it was.

      How, I asked, did he - growing up on Nassau in the Bahamas - know about a small liberal arts university in Raleigh?

      "My mom," he said. "She is an '89 graduate of St. Augustine's. Through her constantly talking about it, I almost had no choice but to choose it as my school."

      Sweeting, 21, is a senior Biology major at St. Aug's, and plans to go to veterinary school upon graduation.

       "I want to be the first veterinarian to have his own veterinary hospital in the Bahamas,” he said. “I plan to stay here for awhile and get some networking opportunities that I can carry back to the Bahamas."     

      For the time being, he's just hoping there'll be some place left to carry something back to.

      Huge swaths of the Bahamas were obliterated last month by Hurricane Dorian. The official death toll is at 50, while the number of reported missing is at 1,300.

      Lavar Stubbs, a St. Aug's business major from Nassau, said one of those missing was a childhood friend who’d been unheard from for several days.

      “That made it hard to concentrate on classes” right after the storm, he said.

      His friend, he said, was found after about five days, hunkered down in a shelter, soggy but safe.

      Stubbs, like Sweeting and other Bahamian students to whom I spoke, plans to return to the Bahamas. "I'm hoping to open my own marketing firm and market the best features of my island to the world," he said.

      All of the Bahamian students on campus and in the Triangle community are close-knit, he said, socializing and throwing parties "every couple of weeks. Every time a new Bahamian comes to campus, we welcome him or her."

      I'd called upon Sweeting, Stubbs and other St. Aug's Bahamian students to see what we in the Triangle could do for them - being so far from home - but each one to whom I spoke was only interested in alleviating the misery of the folks back home.

      They told me about the Bahamas Relief Supplies Drive Friday, Sept. 20 at Emery Gymnasium on campus from 7-9 p.m. The band Baha-Nation will perform and there'll be food trucks on site.

      "Anything you would need to start a new life, especially baby supplies," Stubbs said when asked what, specifically, they wanted people to bring.

 

      Sweeting said most of his immediate family, living in Nassau, was not devastated by Dorian, but extended family on other islands were. There is also, he noted, another possible hurricane that could hit Nassau directly.

      "I have an aunt who's a doctor in Freeport right now," he said. "She's there helping patients cope with all of the trauma they went through, helping them to regain their strength."

           Even as a student at St. Aug's - I was there about long enough to eat lunch four decades ago - I marveled at the number of Bahamian students on campus. Many of them came - as did Sweeting - after hearing family members and friends extolling the school's virtues.

      Stubbs, Sweeting's high school classmate in Nassau, said he chose the Raleigh school not only because his pal did, but because "some of its earlier alumni from the Bahamas have gone on to achieve great things."

      Others heard about it and came after being recruited by the university's world renowned track coach, George Williams.

       During the 1990s to the mid-2000s, there was an airline - Laker Airlines - that twice a week would fly directly from Raleigh to the Bahamas. I mean, you could be sitting at your desk at work, stressing over deadlines, and call up a travel agent, book a flight, and be in Freeport 90 minutes later. 

      I made that spur-of-the-moment, jubilant weekend jaunt many, many times.

      Laker Airlines is no more, but since the people of the Bahamas always treated me like family when I was there, I figured the least I can do is try to help the students they've sent over here help their families.

 

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