By Richard Chumney
As Hurricane Dorian swept through the Bahamas, leveling thousands of homes and killing at least 30 people, Alanis Ingram, a Liberty University student and a native of Grand Bahama island, waited to hear from family.
When she finally reached a neighbor, the news was devastating. Her own home had flooded and an aunt who lives nearby was forced from her house by rising waters.
“When we go back, we’re not sure what we’re going to go back to,” she said Thursday.
Despite the uncertainty, Ingram is eager to return home. She wants to help rebuild and may soon get the chance.
As rescue workers continue to comb the island chain for survivors this week, Liberty is preparing to send a team of Bahamian students to help with the cleanup effort.
Though it may be weeks before it is safe for volunteers to travel to the islands most affected by the storm, the university soon will begin training a group of about 15 students to aid the recovery process, according to David Nasser, LU’s senior vice president for spiritual development.
Nasser said the effort came together earlier this week after about 30 students with ties to the Bahamas asked him to help send aid and other resources home. He quickly agreed and asked LU Send Now, the arm of the university charged with coordinating disaster relief, to put together a team of student volunteers.
“Liberty students are audacious when it comes to wanting to love their neighbor,” Nasser said. “Not one student has asked for a favor for themselves. All they care about is how they can leverage the moment to do more for others back home. It’s impressive to see the caliber of the students we have from the Bahamas.”
At this early stage, the exact nature of the team’s assistance is unclear to organizers. Government officials still are assessing the damage and relief workers have been unable to reach islands where roadways and airport runways have been inundated by floodwaters and debris.
Holly Griswold, associate director of LU Send Now, said when the islands become accessible, Liberty hopes to work alongside longtime partner Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian charity founded by Franklin Graham.
Since the severity of Dorian’s impact became clear early this week, Liberty’s Bahamian students have rallied around each other for emotional support, according to professor Esther Alcindor, a native of the Bahamas and the faculty adviser for Liberty’s Caribbean Student Association.
“When you’ve experienced tragedy like this, sometimes you feel isolated and that no one understands what you’re going through,” she said. “But then when you have someone at your side who has walked in your shoes, it feels like you’re not carrying the burden all on your own.”
The university has pledged to donate $25,000 to Camp Bahamas, a Christian ministry helping to coordinate relief efforts.
On Wednesday, several Bahamian students joined Nasser on stage at convocation to pray for those affected by the storm. Ariannah Wells Bain, a student from Nassau, the Bahamian capital, said the support she and others have received from the university has helped them cope with the tragedy as they navigate the start of the semester.
“We’re such a small group of students,” she said. “We’re from these little dots in the middle of the ocean and they care so much about us.”
Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.