The official student newspaper at the University of Houston-Clear Lake

International students organize volunteer efforts after hurricane

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The Indian Student Association (ISA) organized volunteer efforts to assist the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) community members in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Many of the ISA members are new students that had not even started their first day of school. Yet, members of this international student organization participated in community outreach projects with fellow classmates, faculty and staff. For some, the U.S. was still entirely new to them when the hurricane hit, but that didn’t stop them from volunteering with the relief efforts.

Raj Vadhi, president of ISA and a student ambassador for the Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (SDEI), said he began preparing ISA members to stay safe during the storm in the days leading up to Harvey’s landfall.

“They might be going through a kind of culture shock at this point, but they were ready to help out,” Vadhi said. “They overcame all of that to get out and help the people in need.”

UHCL's Indian Student Association volunteering at Gateway Community Church during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of Raj Vadhi, president of the Indian Student Association.
UHCL’s Indian Student Association volunteering at Gateway Community Church during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of Raj Vadhi, president of the Indian Student Association.

The biggest hurdles were not only communicating with each other but also with affected community members who needed assistance. Communications were difficult as most students were without power or cell service. As the university was closed, there was also no central place to coordinate efforts. Vadhi attributes most of the coordination to social media saying it was vital to formulating a plan. Like many hurricane relief efforts, the students reached out initially to each other via social media and word of mouth. Once it was safe, they met at the University Forest Apartments to form an unofficial committee and began dividing volunteer efforts into different phases.

Though it began as an unofficial effort, the student organization soon partnered with the university to house a donation drive on campus and spread the word about volunteering efforts to a wider platform. Whether it was handing out supplies or joining crews to help clean out houses, ISA got to work, even if it meant having to find ways to carpool to the locations.

Erika Garcia, coordinator for diversity programs for SDEI, and Inclusion didn’t receive any property damage herself, so she was eager to help her community after being stuck at a friend’s apartment for a few days because of flooding. Garcia said they were able to help clean out even large houses in a couple of hours thanks to the large teams of students, staff and faculty volunteers, and she had a chance to meet many of her UHCL colleagues for the first time.

“As far as the students and ISA, I am very often in awe of how giving, caring and unselfish they are with their time and energy to improve UHCL and its community,” Garcia said.

Although many of the students volunteering were helping neighbors in a new country, the disaster still hit home for many of them, especially members of ISA. Parts of India have also experienced catastrophic flooding due to heavy rains this year.

“They were able to connect because they cannot help over there,” Vadhi said. “They were trying to help over here maybe in their own ways.”

To learn more about the Indian Student Association, visit uhclisa.org.

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