In an effort to cushion the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on everyday life and the sharp, unprecedented transition to a virtual reality for its student body, University of The Bahamas (UB) officials immediately spearheaded efforts to secure funding for technology. Corporate partners and individual donors both locally and abroad heard the University’s cry, and immediately came to the rescue.
At a recent virtual gathering of the COVID-19 Taskforce for technology the team celebrated their collective efforts to yield over $30,000 in cash, pledges, and in-kind donations towards its COVID-19 Technology Relief Fund, including donations from nine Bahamas Petroleum Dealers Association members. The donations will go a long way in assisting several UB students continue their education in the “new normal” caused by COVID-19.
“We’re very, very grateful—I know the students are deeply grateful, and we’re going to continue this effort and try to reach all of our students, those who do not have a laptop or those who do not have the technology in order for them to have access to education,” said UB President Dr. Rodney D. Smith via ZOOM.
Dr. Smith noted that when the University first transitioned to remote operations on 16th March after The Bahamas’ first COVID-19 case, its officials had no idea of just how deprived several UB students were of access to technology. To date, over 600 students have submitted requests for assistance to receive a donated laptop, tablet or data.
“We were actually catapulted into a new challenge, and that challenge was not only to try to meet the needs of our students to keep their education but we also found out that many of our students did not have food, and a lot of them needed more support than we had imagined,” said Dr. Smith.
As an additional avenue to raise awareness of the COVID-19 technology relief effort, Dr. Smith reached out to Dr. Lorraine Bastian Jones, Director of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning for her assistance to help raise more funds for technology to help satisfy the enormous needs of the students.
Dr. Bastian Jones hit the ground running as chair of the new taskforce that boasts members like former Deputy Prime Minister Cynthia “Mother” Pratt; Bahamian businessman Mr. Peter Roker; and UB Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs Mr. Dino Hernandez, who had an intimate understanding of the plight of some of UB’s students.
“The stories we are hearing from students struggling to complete their classwork on borrowed laptops, spending hours a week on some family member’s tablet or just using their cellphone, it just hurts your heart,” said Mr. Hernandez. “The work of all taskforce members has a profound impact on all of our students.”
Individual donors directly tied to the COVID-19 Taskforce efforts included Daniel Ferguson, Mavis Johnson Collie and Mary Kaklamanakis. Along with a corporate donation from the Utilities Regulations Commission Authority (URCA). Attorney and URCA’s Corporate and Consumer Relations Manager Mrs. Johnson-Collie, herself a former employee of UB, was also instrumental in securing a donation of 15 refurbished Dell laptops. The laptops were donated and purchased through a special high school programme in Washington, DC area. The programme facilitates the refurbishing lightly used high quality laptops by high school students focusing on STEM subjects. The programme is led by Mr. Jay Lightfoot, a technology teacher with the Northumberland High School in Virginia.
“It’s always a privilege and an honour to give back in any way to the community, especially to students,” said Mrs. Johnson-Collie.
Meanwhile, Mr. Roker lauded Dr. Bastian Jones for her efforts to secure donations—monetary and otherwise—for UB’s noble cause. He noted that when she first reached out to him, he was assisting various dealers in New Providence in importing face masks from the United States. After those efforts went belly-up due to certain complications, he immediately switched gears to assist in securing donations for UB.
“Certainly, the effort that Dr. Bastian Jones is doing goes to the core of what is necessary in this country,” said Mr. Roker. “And so, I really congratulate her, and also, we’re happy to be a part of assisting the University of The Bahamas.”
Mr. Roker also went on to praise the members of the Bahamas Petroleum Dealers Association who contributed and donated to UB’s cause, noting that at the time they made the donations, their various enterprises were almost closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ESSO Petroleum donors included Paul Hepburn, Oakes Field; Peter Roker, Bargain City Shopping Plaza, Carmichael Road; Raymond Jones, Carmichael Road; and Vasco Bastian, East Street and Soldier Road. SHELL Petroleum donors included Eulease Johnson, Harold & Wulff Roads; Harold L. Watson, Marathon Road & Paradise Island; and Ray Saunders, West Bay Street. RUBIS Petroleum donors included Clyde Pratt, Carmichael Road; and Oswald Moore, Harbour Bay & East West Highway.
“The petroleum dealers in The Bahamas, we’re not a group of people that people pay much attention to other than buying fuel, but they are extremely generous people,” said Mr. Roker. “And I was quite surprised to how they responded to this effort, because it was really a quick effort, but they seriously responded, so they need a big round of applause.”
The funds donated will augment other fundraising initiatives earmarked for the the COVID-19 Technology Relief Fund to purchase technology for students these gifts to be disseminated in a phased approach. Corporate partners interested in donating funds, laptops, data cards or tablets may contact Mr. Dino Hernandez, Vice President, Division of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs, email: firstname.lastname@example.org – phone: (242) 302-4304.