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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Heavy damage​​ to the island of Saint-Martin (north)/St. Maarten (south) caused by Hurricane Irma​ (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)​

Born in St. Maarten, the shared Dutch and French Caribbean island, Nayanne Lenus was stateside when the news reported Category 5 winds tearing through the eastern Caribbean at speeds of 185 miles an hour. Hurricane Irma hit on Sept. 6. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria deluged St. Maarten, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, “drowning what the first couldn’t destroy,” reported the New York Times. 

RIC graduate student Nayanne Lenus

​Four years earlier, Lenus had left St. Maarten to attend Rhode Island College, where she earned a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2017 and is currently working on her Master of Social Work degree.

Her parents and extended family remain on the once picturesque island that relied on tourism to sustain its economy. Today, the island resembles a landfill and life for the people is fragile.

Lenus said there is still almost no fuel or electricity and food delivery remains erratic. “People are standing in line for hours just for a can of tuna and a bottle of water,” she said. “I felt that I needed to do something.”​

Lenus is asking the RIC community to join the relief effort for the people of St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico led by Lenus and fellow M.S.W. student Angelina Serrano​​​.​ The needs of these islands are much the same: they suffer severe food and water shortages and almost no fuel or electricity.

It’s hard not to become desensitized when so many catastrophes occur in such rapid succession. To help bring it closer to home, Lenus asks that the RIC community think back to the recent October gale that hit Rhode Island and Massachusetts, leaving​ thousands of homes and businesses without electricity for a few days. 

Now imagine if that situation was sustained for weeks – or even months, Lenus said. “Imagine not having food, not having a place to live after the storms destroyed your home, not knowing when your children would be able to go back to school, not knowing when you would be able to go back to work or if you’d have a job to go back to,” she said.

W​hat is needed most by the people on these islands is water and nonperishable food, such as​ canned goods and rice. Tarps are​ also needed to replace roofs, ceilings and walls that were blown away.

Lenus asks that donations be placed in drop boxes at the School of Social Work (back door), the Unity Center (main office) and Learning for Life (main office). Donations will then be shipped to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. 

Lenus added that while Texas and Florida struggle to rebuild after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, please do not forget the eastern Caribbean islands in the restoration process.​

​During her tenure at RIC, Lenus has volunteered at a variety of human service agencies, including Amos House, the United Way of Rhode Island, Emmanuel House and at an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador​.​

Photo by Nayanne Lenus’ father, Vitaliene Lenus​

Photo by Vitaliene Lenus​​

Photo by Nikita Muhki​