For six years, Clemson University sociology professor Brenda Vander Mey has been proactively leading a sustainability Creative Inquiry class to the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. Today, Vander Mey, her students and some associates are leading a different mission for the 70,000 inhabitants of the archipelago – one of relief.

Sociology asks relief for Dominica

Clemson students have aided Dominica in sustainability projects, including planting food gardens.

The immediate need for residents of the 290-square-mile eastern Caribbean commonwealth are supplies and money in response to Tropical Storm Erika, which in late August killed 30 while devastating villages, destroying bridges and leaving a reconstruction bill worth half the country’s annual GDP.

“Our Creative Inquiry has focused on sustainability and the island’s people. But when natural disasters like this strike it adds a sense of reality. This definitely changes our direction from one of proactive help to response and resolve in helping many of the people we’ve come to know rebound from this devastation,” Vander Mey said.

Vander Mey said the islanders’ immediate needs are survival goods, including first aid and hygiene kits, water purification tablets, soap, toothpaste and sanitizer wipes. But gloves, footwear, clothing and clean-up supplies, such as heavy-duty garbage bags and scrub brushes are also needed.

“Of course, food is in short supply, so non-perishable canned meats and soups and boxes of rice, lentils and pasta are also needed,” Vander Mey said. “But there’s also a need for office and school supplies, things like pens, markers, notebooks, flash drives, staplers and craft supplies. Funding is also needed to cover shipping and on-ground transportation costs.”

Vander Mey’s Creative Inquiry course, People-Place-Sustainability (SOC 4860), is represented by a variety of majors who engage in community and environmental sustainability projects with school children, teachers and volunteers on Dominica. “The Creative Inquiry students have transformed an outdoor learning experience by reshaping the landscape and have literally brought their curriculum to life by constructing food gardens, which led to farmers’ markets in the school yard,” Vander Mey said.

But today, the Clemson contingent, including the Order of Athena Chapter of Mortar Board, is making a plea to the university community to help residents of Dominica rebound from the devastation caused by the tropical storm.

“We (Clemson) are very well known by the people in Dominica’s villages. Even though most of the relationships are professional, I have friends, know their children – and even know their dogs’ names,” Vander Mey said. “My intention is to extend this drive for the entire semester to at least put a dent in meeting some of their needs.”   The island has been subjected to more rains since Tropical Storm Erika.   This makes extending help all the more reasonable.

Vander Mey asked anyone willing to contribute goods or money to contact her, or bring them to her office at 123-D Brackett Hall. She can also be reached at 864.245.5913 or by email:

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