Empathy for the people's suffering after a massive earthquake in Haiti has energized students, staff and faculty to raise awareness, raise funds and in some cases to travel to the devastated country.
By Cynthia Lee for UCLA Today
AS THE CATASTROPHIC dimensions of the earthquake's aftermath in Haiti unfold, deep empathy for the unimaginable suffering taking place there has energized students, staff and faculty to raise awareness of the devastation and raise funds for relief agencies.
Kimberly Adams, a registered nurse and graduate student in UCLA's Family Nurse Practitioner Program in the School of Nursing, is one such Bruin. She is trying to get back to a Port-au-Prince orphanage where she, as a volunteer, has fed hungry children and cared for malaria-stricken orphans several times over the last year.
But this time, she wants to return to the orphanage, Maison de Lumiere, with critically needed medical supplies, for which she is now raising funds.
"It's almost unbelievable that this could happen," said Adams, who returned from the orphanage, run by Child Hope International, on Jan. 2 after volunteering there over the winter break. She left behind her friend and fellow volunteer, Ashley Hapak, a registered nurse with the Reagan UCLA Medical Center's pediatric intensive care unit, to carry on the difficult work.
When news of the earthquake reached Adams, she and Hapak's parents frantically searched for word of Hapak's fate. When Internet connections were restored on Wednesday, Jan. 13, Adams finally reached a teacher who lives down the street from the orphanage’s medical clinic and asked him to find Hapak.
"When I found out she was alive and okay, I was so thankful. I couldn't even imagine what she went through," Adams said. The orphanage has withstood the quake and aftershocks so far, although there was structural damage. Of the 60 orphans who live there, one girl was trapped in rubble when her school building collapsed, but she was rescued. Another orphan, a 4-year-old, broke her leg.
"Right now, all the kids are sleeping outside, and the orphanage has become a hospital,” Adams said. Hapak, she was told, was working around the clock, treating people as they poured in. “I want to go back, even if it’s just for a week. I want to help,” she said. Currently, Adams is trying to raise money and make arrangements to take a leave from school.
Graduate student Courtney Burks is also raising money for medical supplies for Haiti through Esperanza International as well as a coalition of local health clinics in the Dominican Republic.
"My heart hurts most for the Haitian people and the massive suffering they have to endure. I can't imagine what they must be experiencing. I hope that this pain will resonate with the global community," she said in an e-mail before she departed on a plane from Miami bound for the Dominican Republican Thursday, Jan. 14. Burks, enrolled in a joint degree program with the School of Public Health and Latin American studies, is on a research trip to work with a local microfinance institution that has branches there and in Haiti.
"My only fear is the aftershock and the fact that they are on tsunami watch," e-mailed Burks before she boarded the flight filled with rescue workers and reporters. "But I honestly think I'll be fine." So far, Burks has raised $400 on her own for relief efforts.
For students and staff at Hedrick Summit and other residence halls, Haiti is the country they were so eloquently introduced to through Pulitzer-Prize winning author Tracy Kidder's 2003 book, "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World." Much of that book is about Farmer's medical work in Haiti. Currently, Dr. Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health, are trying to set up an emergency medical clinic in Port-au-Prince while survivors pour into his clinic.
“Anyone who has read that book can't help but have a more intimate connection with Haiti,” said David Gere, a professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures and a faculty-in-residence at Hedrick Summit, which became the first residence hall to use the book as a starting point to explore what citizens can do to help third-world countries.
At Gere’s urging, last fall the book became required reading for all of UCLA’s freshmen and transfer students as a way of introducing them to the concept of global citizenship and civic engagement. It inspired hundreds of students to participate in more than 150 discussions on the Hill during Welcome Week.
Motivated by their empathy for Haiti, said Hedrick Director Bridget Le Loup, “A cadre of student leaders and staff are mobilizing to … respond to the crisis in Haiti” in addition to sending money.
A Hill Bruin Benefit is planned for Friday, Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. in De Neve Plaza. At 7 p.m., a marching band will lead a procession of participants from the De Neve quad to Royce Hall for a “Help Haiti Bruin Benefit" presented by UCLA Live.
Campus residence halls and other campus partners will also collaborate with the Art | Global Health Center in the Department of World Arts and Cultures to heighten awareness about Haiti’s rich cultural traditions while raising donations for relief agencies, such as Partners in Health.
“We've put out a call for performing artists, dancers and individuals with a very strong connection to Haiti who can speak to us and educate us about the impact of this tragedy,” Le Loup said.
“They can help provide a cultural context for what’s happened,” said Gere, director of the center. “It’s more than what we can see on MSNBC or CNN.”
The event, also on Jan. 22, will include classes in yoga and hip-hop and performances, and will take place in Glorya Kaufman Hall and the Grand Horizon Room in Covel Commons. Find details here.
Members of the UCLA American Red Cross Club will soon be selling T-shirts on Bruin Walk to raise money for the International Response Fund of the Red Cross. “For the moment, the Red Cross has released an additional $9 million for earthquake relief, bringing its total commitment so far to $10 million to support relief efforts in Haiti,” said student Cassandra Gonzalez, one of the club’s leaders.
Robin Derby, associate professor in history, has close ties to the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic because of her research in sorcery narratives and religious traditions. She suggests that those who want to contribute consider the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, whose members are doing triage in tents and on the streets of Port-au-Prince after their own facilities were destroyed. For long-term assistance to Haiti, another international organization, Caritas Haiti, will be there “picking up the pieces,” Derby said.
Derby had planned to travel this weekend to San Francisco de Bánica, a Dominican city on the border with Haiti. Damage in the rural area where the city is located has not been severe, she has been told. She has been interviewing people on both sides of the border about their concepts of evil as part of her research. “Haitians have this whole corpus of shapeshifter lore.” For example, some believe that evil people can morph into animals. The zombie is another personification among the Haitians of evil.
“Whenever something bad happens, these are the kinds of explanations that tend to emerge,” she said. “But I don’t want to hamper rescue efforts. I can wait a month. The stories will still be there.”
To read Chancellor Gene Block’s statement on the situation in Haiti, go here. It contains links to seven organizations, including the Red Cross, that are raising money for earthquake relief.
Other websites to consider:
Child Hope International
Doctors Without Borders
Partners in Health