On January 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, devastating the capital of Port-au-Prince, as well as much of the surrounding area. On Thursday, CNN reported that European Union and the Pan American Health Organization have estimated that the quake killed 200,000 people. The number injured is estimated at 194,000, according to the CNN report. Over the past two weeks, Bowdoin students have raised awareness of Haiti's tragedy, held fundraisers, and started to organize a collective campus-wide relief effort to benefit the needs of Haiti's survivors.
Close to home
For students of Haitian descent, their sense of shock after seeing footage of the earthquake in Haiti was combined with trepidation about family and friends in Haiti, as well as long waits by the phone.
Alain Mathieu '12, whose parents both came to the U.S. from Haiti when they were young adults, said that he had both close and extended family in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.
"All my blood-related family is okay and accounted for. There were some [members] of my extended family who didn't survive the earthquake...but all those who are closest to my household are okay."
The disaster has been especially difficult on Mathieu's parents, who still had friends living in Haiti.
"A lot of my family's friends are still there and a lot of them are unaccounted for, so at this point in time we presume that they didn't make it or they're in an area where they can't get in any contact with us," said Mathieu.
Leticia St. Remy '12, both of whose parents were born in Haiti, said that she and her family waited for five days before receiving word from their relatives in Haiti.
"It took five days, but it felt like forever," she said.
Both Mathieu and St. Remy said that while they didn't immediately comprehend the magnitude of the destruction, the graphic news coverage directly following the quake drove the message home.
When Mathieu first glanced at the TV screen while walking through his kitchen, he said he "didn't think much of it because it's really a country prone to natural disasters."
Once he sat down in front of a TV, however, he began to realize the magnitude of the devastation.
"Once I...started seeing images of what was actually happening, I think that sparked my pride in the country more than anything else ever has," said Mathieu.
"I didn't really understand until I was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN," added St. Remy. "It just hit me, this country is destroyed."
Kyle Dempsey '11 said that when he began fundraising for earthquake relief efforts in northern Maine over break, he had to find a way to conceptualize the devastation for people who knew very little about Haiti.
Comparing the number of Haitians affected by the earthquake to the population of Maine, he told them, "Just imagine that everyone in the state of Maine lost their homes."
On the ground
While much of the world has seen the devastation and struggle to survive in Haiti through TV screens, Bret McEvoy '05 has been amidst it.
For the past two weeks, McEvoy '05 has been in Port-au-Prince as an AmeriCares relief worker organizing the distribution of medical aid to survivors.
While the Orient could not get in touch with McEvoy directly, his mother Jane Raban told us that McEvoy's experiences prior to and at Bowdoin contributed to his passion for service.
After graduating high school, McEvoy enrolled at Brown University, but after his first year "he decided he wanted to take time off as he was questioning whether he truly knew what he wanted out of his education," wrote Raban in an e-mail to the Orient.
According to Raban, after a year off that included a trip to Tibet that furthered his "sense of purpose and wanting to help people," McEvoy enrolled at Bowdoin. While at the College, he participated in two service trips to Peru, and also started a chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy.
According to McEvoy's blog that he has been updating from Haiti, his AmeriCares team is responsible for addressing the urgent need for supplies.
"We open up the warehouse in the morning and receive medical representatives eager to replenish their dwindling or non-existent stock, as the demands for their services have increased exponentially in the wake of this disaster," reads a January 27 entry by McEvoy.
McEvoy's reflections also address the spirit of the Haitians he has encountered, even in these trying times.
"I have found nothing but warmth, hospitality and gratefulness in the Haitian people I have met and befriended," reads a January 22 post.
McEvoy's also addressed the still-urgent need for help. Though AmeriCares and other relief teams have begun to mitigate the situation, donations are still essential to help AmeriCares bring medical solutions to Haiti.
"Imagine having an amputation with no anesthesia, or a lingering and spreading infection with no antibiotics, or a child in need of an injection with only a large gauge needle meant for an adult," reads a January 23 post. "Without access to medicines and supplies, this is the reality in post-earthquake Haiti."
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, a bake sale sponsored by V-Day raised $1,567.08 for Partners in Health, according to V-Day member Margie Cooper '10.
In addition, Dempsey has also raised approximately $1,500 in his town of East Millinocket.
Dempsey and Mathieu, who organized a meeting on Monday night attended by approximately 20 student leaders, said that they hope that this is just the beginning.
Monday's meeting was convened to discuss short- and long-term plans for fundraising, as well as how to organize efforts into an energetic but coherent whole.
Dempsey said that while many students have been impassioned to act by the images they have seen in the media, it is important to organize and direct these efforts.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm, but people don't really have any direction at this point," said Dempsey.
On Thursday night, Dempsey explained the details of the group's vision for a unified relief effort.
Tomorrow morning, Dempsey said he plans to meet with Mathieu, Joelinda Coichy '12, Assistant Director for Community Service Programs Sarah Seames, and Brunswick resident Amanda Similien, who volunteered with the Peace Corps in Haiti and has ties to Haiti through her husband
Together, the group will nail down logistics for "Haiti Week," which is tentatively scheduled to fall around February 25.
Accordng to Dempsey, after brainstorming ideas for fundraisers, the group will identify other clubs and organizations on campus that might be willing and capable of running events—from speakers to concerts to benefit dinners.
"We can essentially keep track of everything that's going on, but at the same time no specific group is too overwhelmed with their responsibilities," said Dempsey.
Relief efforts will primarily focus on raising money, because logistics and security concerns make sending supplies and food difficult.
"There is nothing we can do right now as far as sending physical items [to Haiti]," said Mathieu.
In addition, given food and water shortages for Haitians and doctors alone, it may be months before students are able to visit Haiti and volunteer their efforts in person—though several students have said that they would like to eventually lead volunteer trips over spring or summer breaks.
"It's hard to raise money for something that you can't see," said Dempsey, "but you have to look past that and you need to convince other people to look past that as well."
Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Susie Dorn praised the student initiative taken in relief efforts so far.
"Several years back with the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina disasters, much of this coordination for campus events happened through our office with staff leading the efforts," wrote Dorn in an e-mail to the Orient.
"Today, it is students who are working collaboratively in very smart ways to streamline impact and reach of fundrasing and educational programming around support for Haiti, and it speaks to the tremendously talented and committed study body we have," Dorn added.
Dempsey, who is the Bowdoin Student Government Treasurer, encouraged student leaders to ask for Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC) for funds when planning creative or ambitious events.
"[The SAFC is] in the best financial place we've been in 10 years," said Dempsey. "Any creative idea that people come up with will probably get funded."
A resilient people
While short-term fundraising is important, students and faculty alike have stressed the need for interest in Haiti over the long-term.
Brooks Winner '10, who attended Monday night's meeting, said that although the current need in Haiti is acute, it is important for Bowdoin's relief efforts to continue through the long-term, as well as to focus on education about the struggles that Haitians faced long before this month's quake.
"This is a problem that is going to last," he said. "It wasn't just an earthquake that caused all this."
An event called "Homage to Haiti," scheduled for next Monday and sponsored by the Latin American Studies program, will include speeches by Haitian-American students, faculty presentations on the culture, literature and history of Haiti, as well as a talk given by Dr. Samuel Broaddus '73, whose team of Maine doctors works alongside medical doctors in Haiti.
Professor of History Alan Wells said the event will aim to get beyond the images of destruction seen in the media, and help people "understand something about the rich cultural heritage that Haitians have forged."
Referencing the poverty and political climate, Wells said, "We tend to get this very negative portrait of Haiti," though "the problems that they've had have often times been the result of external factors as well as internal factors that have contributed to it."
"We often don't see how resilient Haitians are," he added.
St. Remy echoed Well's statement, also agreeing that media coverage of the earthquake does not lend itself to seeing Haiti in a positive light.
"While it's great that Haiti is getting all this coverage, I don't want my country and my people to be viewed as powerless," said St. Remy. "We are powerful, but unfortunately our government has scammed us time and time again.
"The most important thing is sustained interest and effort....you can't just throw a band-aid on," she added. "It's like putting a band aid on a gushing wound. You need stitches...and it takes time to make stitches."
At Monday night's meeting, Assistant Director of Residential Life Dudney Sylla '08 said that while crisis in Haiti has escalated, it is important to keep its culture and heritage in mind as relief efforts move forward.
"There are a lot of beautiful things about Haiti as well," he said. "and I don't want that to get lost."
Editors' note: The Orient will donate a portion of next week's ad revenue to Partners in Health.