When the power in her house shut down and the air-conditioner turned off, Alex-Maree Roberts ’16, from the Commonwealth of Dominica, woke up from her sleep to the jarring sound of violent rain, she recalled in an interview with The Phillipian. Along with her sister, Roberts took bottles and pots outside the house in hopes of collecting rainwater to wash the dishes. She realized then that she was in the middle of Tropical Storm Erika, one of Dominica’s deadliest storms ever.
Roberts lives in Pointe Michel, a small fishing village in the southern part of the island. Tropical Storm Erika hit the Commonwealth of Dominica on August 27 without warning. The storm caused flooding and mudslides throughout the island, blocking roads and destroying numerous buildings.
“There were landslides blocking roads so we couldn’t drive north or south. My dad and my sister and I walked about two miles to get gasoline to power our generator so I saw some of the damage in the nearby area firsthand. We didn’t have electricity or power for most of the day so we were kind of limited in what we could see. In my house, it just [seemed] like a lot of rain, but there was news that there were people taken away by the river from their houses or from the church,” said Roberts.
Upon her return to Andover, Roberts wanted to find a way to support her community back at home. After watching videos of other Dominicans in the United States who were starting similar projects on their respective school campuses, she decided to fundraise at Andover.
“A lot of the money back home is being put into fixing roads and bridges and providing immediate relief for people who have lost their homes. Some kids haven’t been [back] to school yet and [my family and I] wanted to give to a cause that a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to,” she said.
With the help of her friends and student volunteers, Roberts started fundraising last Thursday and Friday in Paresky Commons to help with the repairing of schools in Dominica.
“I know that this community is really big on ‘non sibi’ and community engagement and I figured that the people here would help. I have a big belief that the people here would want to help those who are not as fortunate, especially considering that this is such a privileged place to be,” said Roberts.
The money that Roberts collects here will be wired directly to an account back in the Commonwealth of Dominica and sent to the Ministry of Education. The donations collected at Andover will be used by the Ministry of Education to purchase construction materials and books needed by schools.
The first school that Roberts wants to help is the Pichelin Primary School, located in the isolated town of Pichelin.
“We’re going to start from the hardest-hit and see how far that takes us. I’d like to help as many schools as possible, but I understand that I can’t just expect people to sponsor a complete revamp of all the schools. I am new to this fundraising business and I’m just being very optimistic about it,” she said.
In an effort to aid Roberts and her mission, Susanne Torabi, International Students Coordinator, told her about the Phillips Academy Natural Disaster Aid (P.A.N.D.A.), a collaborative effort created by students in 2008 who then were raising money to help repair damages from the Sichuan earthquake. This year, Roberts hopes to revive P.A.N.D.A.
“Once I learned about the tragic news of what happened in [Roberts’] home country, I was worried how she and her family were doing and immediately reached out to her. I have supported lots of students in the past in similar situations, which is why P.A.N.D.A. got started,” wrote Torabi in an email interview with The Phillipian.
“I want to keep the name P.A.N.D.A. going because natural disasters happen frequently and if people keep this [effort] going and keep awakening it then it’s going to remind the community that it’s not a new thing for us to help [those] who are struck by disaster. This may be a new project but it’s not a new idea to the Andover community,” said Roberts.
Roberts said she plans to continue fundraising to rebuild Dominican schools for at least the rest of the month.
“Right now I don’t have a concrete goal [or] number I’m aiming for but [Andover’s] response has been really positive. People have asked how they can help, not just in donations but what more they can do to help the Dominican community. It’s really heartwarming to see that people are not just willing to give money but also time and effort,” said Roberts.
From the donations she received during her first week of fundraising, Roberts has so far collected a total of $411.12.