Among the numerous uncertainties concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, Tanika Marais ’20 is sure of one thing: a desire to express her deep gratitude. A graduate student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Marais received $900 from the Texas A&M University Disaster Relief Fund to offset financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds allowed her to continue pursuing her master’s degree in international policy.
“There are no words to describe how appreciative and thankful I am,” Marais said. “The funds I received lifted an immense weight off my shoulders.”
The Disaster Relief Fund was originally created to assist Aggies following the destruction of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. In late March, it was announced that donations to the fund would benefit Aggies facing financial hardships in the wake of the pandemic. Since that time, the fund has awarded 568 students with a total of $717,126 to date. These contributions resulted from the generosity of 283 donors.
By awarding and delivering the aid in fewer than four days after receiving their applications, the fund has provided immediate, one-time relief for undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students from the College Station and Galveston campuses and the Health Science Center. Many, like Marais, faced lost jobs or diminished wages and are grateful for the generosity that has helped them continue their education while providing for these unexpected expenses.
A South African native, Marais carefully planned when she chose to leave her job, family and country to earn a master’s degree from Texas A&M’s Bush School and pursue a career in international development. With a significant exchange rate between dollars and Rands, the South African currency, she performed calculations to ensure that she had the finances for her education. “I was cutting it close, but I planned everything to a T and figured I should be okay,” she explained. “But no one foresaw a pandemic.”
Amid COVID-19-related shutdowns and cancellations, the Rand’s value dropped, and Marais’ husband, a professional golf caddy for the PGA Tour, was temporarily out of work. “I became more and more stressed and didn’t know what to do,” Marais said.
While many students could apply for financial assistance through the U.S. government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Marais did not qualify because of her international student status. She began looking for other options and heard about the Disaster Relief Fund from Sondra White ’87, her supervisor in Texas A&M’s Division of Student Affairs, where Marais works as a graduate assistant in the marketing division.
“The funds I received helped tremendously and put me more at ease,” she said. “It means so much to me as an international student. I have never received a penny from my own country for aid, so to receive this from a university in a foreign country is unimaginable.”
This display of generosity reinforced Marais’ initial impression of the university. When considering where to pursue her master’s, Marais was drawn to the relationships and responsiveness of Texas A&M. “It’s a one-on-one relationship,” she explained. “The university supports you through the entire journey. It’s not just about getting money to study here; it’s about supporting you while you do it. Everyone at Texas A&M wants to see you succeed afterward as well, which is something I’ve never experienced at any university before.”
The Texas A&M University Disaster Relief Fund is still accepting donations to benefit Aggies who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can support the fund by visiting https://www.txamfoundation.com/covid-19-relief-fund.aspx.