Diaspora assists displaced Jamaican students in the US

Diaspora assists displaced Jamaican students in the US

Senior associate editor

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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MORE than 40 students studying in the United States who have been displaced because of the COVID-19 pandemic have been rescued by the Northeast Jamaica Diaspora.

Up to Monday, the diaspora had found temporary accommodation for 41 Jamaicans who had to leave their dormitories, as colleges and universities shut their doors as part of measures to contain the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

The students receiving assistance are, however, from all over the United States, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington, DC. In addition to accommodation, they have been given care packages consisting of food/sanitation supplies, limited financial assistance, travelling assistance, and have also been offered counselling services.

“Based on their lived experiences and wisdom of practice as a K-17 educator, the Northeast Diaspora representative Dr Karren Dunkley and Ms Lorraine Smith — a nationally certified social worker — responded swiftly by developing an infrastructure to aid the many international students displaced when colleges and universities asked students to leave campus housing for COVID-19 cleaning activities, or pivoted to online classes only,” the diaspora said in response to questions from the Jamaica Observer Sunday night.

Dr Dunkley has credited Sandra Smith for providing pro bono counsel in the drafting of a waiver which students and sponsors sign to limit liability on both ends.

The Northeast Jamaica Diaspora said it was initially conceptualised as a think-tank initiative, where members would reach out to Jamaican students from all across the United States to advise them on measures to take.

“Interestingly, parents reached out from Jamaica to connect with us for help and to ensure their children were safe. Jamaican parents, who resided in other parts of the Caribbean, and a mother who resides in Bermuda, also contacted Dr Dunkley to find out how the organisation could help,” the Northeast Jamaica Diaspora said.

It said Juzel Lloyd, a Wolmer's High School for Girls graduate who is now studying mechanical engineering at Howard University, has extended her appreciation to the diaspora for its care in reaching out to the displaced students.

“I felt lost and anxious and in awe, because I couldn't believe what was happening. I was wondering what I should do. I was going through my Whatsapp group chats to monitor what everybody else was trying to do and saying. I spoke to one of my friends who gave me Dr Dunkley's number, and told me a support group existed that would help students. I called Dr Dunkley immediately and explained that I was one of the displaced students. She directed me to Ms Lorraine Smith for counselling and support, and shared that they were putting the resources in place and would be in touch with me shortly. I am now temporarily housed with the family of Dr Jacqueline Payne-Borden [in Washington, DC],” the diaspora quoted Lloyd in its response to the Observer.

“I feel thankful. It was strange at first. I felt guilty because I didn't know these people and I was walking into their home, [but], over time, I have opened up to people,” said the Howard University student. “These kind strangers opened up their home to me [and] I am very thankful,” said Lloyd.

Said Dr Dunkley: “True gratitude belongs to Jamaicans like Carmen Masters in New York, Dion Barnes in New Jersey, Northeast Diaspora personal contacts, Desmond Ranglin in Rhode Island, Dr Jacqueline Payne-Borden in Maryland, and representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, also in Rhode Island, who leveraged their networks to support these students in need.”

She said, too, that a number of faith-based organisations such as New Testament Church of God in Philadelphia and Christ Church in New Jersey remain on standby to help support the initiative.

But Dr Dunkley, an educator who sits on the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council, said: “This novel coronavirus crisis highlights the importance to keep an accurate registry of all international students by state and college/university. Many students have articulated that they want to serve as ambassadors to encourage their peers to register with the local consulates and embassies.”

Dr Dunkley, during her campaign last November for a seat on the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council, said her focus would be on working with the Diaspora and the Jamaican Government to address issues such as education, skills training and entrepreneurship, youth empowerment, access to clean water for every household, and community development.

An expert in education and leadership development, Dr Dunkley is also passionate about skills training for adults.

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