December 2, 2016 — The unsung workers who keep a campus running often go unnoticed. But Georgetown student Febin Bellamy is working to change that by highlighting their stories in a way his peers understand: through a Facebook page.
Bellamy started the page "Unsung Heroes" to profile the stories of workers who keep Georgetown University running — janitors, cafeteria workers and others. It all started when Bellamy struck up a conversation with janitor Oneil Batchelor, an immigrant from Jamaica, while Batchelor was working and Bellamy was studying with fellow business students.
Within weeks, Batchelor and Bellamy were having long talks about being immigrants, about wanting to be entrepreneurs, about politics, history and music. After forming that bond with the once-invisible worker, Bellamy couldn’t stop noticing the others. “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it,” he said.
“There was this space, like ice separating us,” said Batchelor.
“Everybody’s in their own world,” Bellamy said. “A lot of students have good hearts and were raised right. It’s just not always easy for them to get to know people around them.”
Bellamy knew that each of those workers has a story. Many of them are immigrants, as is Bellamy, whose family immigrated to the United States from India when he was 5. He wanted to find a way to introduce the workers to the students. That idea went from the Facebook page for a class project last April to a fundraiser making real change today.
On the Facebook page, students learned that the guy who cleans the business school windows, Batchelor, left a place of little opportunity in Jamaica 20 years ago and dreams of opening his own jerk-chicken restaurant someday.
They realized that every time Memuna Tackie, the woman vacuuming the carpet at the library, asked a question about an English word, they were helping the immigrant from Ghana study for her citizenship test. They found out that Umberto “Suru” Ripai, who runs a cash register at the dining hall, hasn’t seen his family in what is now South Sudan for 45 years.
Georgetown students raised more than $5,000 for Umberto “Suru” Ripai, so he can visit his family in South Sudan for the first time in 45 years. (Andy Hogg/Unsung Heroes)
The stories got shared. And liked. And loved.
“I walk through campus now, and people are waving at me, saying hi all the time,” Batchelor said.
Students who read about Batchelor encouraged him to hold fundraisers serving his now-famous-on-campus chicken and raised $2,500 for him to jump start his catering business. The page also raised $5,000 to finance a trip for Ripai so he can visit his family in South Sudan.
“It’s like the door has cracked open in front of me,” Batchelor said. “And I can smell the air coming through.”
Bellamy hopes to expand Unsung Heroes to other campuses nationwide. Meanwhile, Batchelor says the attention his story has garnered has brought in a healthy stream of customers for his blossoming catering business. "This is truly a blessing. My life will never be the same." [Sources: Washington Post, NBC Nightly News]