Students unite to support relief efforts for Haiti quake

In the aftermath of the earthquake that ruptured Haiti on Jan. 12, students at the College joined others around the globe in fundraising and sending emergency supplies. Over the past few weeks, meetings across campus have generated energy, organization and execution of a cohesive relief effort.

The week of Feb. 5 to Feb. 12 marks a cornerstone of this effort: The Ephs for Relief Fundraising Challenge is a competition against Amherst, in which victory is not claimed by free throws or touch downs, but rather by donations to relief efforts in Haiti. The two colleges will announce the amounts they raised at the women’s hockey and men’s basketball games on Friday.

The overall organization for the Haiti relief effort on campus comes from Ephs for Relief, a student committee that arose from an all-campus brainstorming session held on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Over 80 students, as well as several staff, faculty, community members and members of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) attended the meeting, which resulted in several smaller planning committees and the beginnings of concrete plans for action.

More than 20 student groups have been collaborating with Ephs for Relief to plan fundraising events.“It has been remarkable to see how quickly and effectively the students organized,” said Stewart Burns, coordinator of the Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

At the initial meeting, Ephs for Relief decided to donate all of the money raised during the competition to Partners in Health (PIH), a non-profit medical organization with established ties in Haiti. The committee chose PIH not only for its strong reputation and history of work in Haiti, but also for logistical reasons: Unlike other organizations, many of PIH’s health clinics are located outside of the damaged capital city, Port-au-Prince, and managed to survive the earthquake.

According to Burns, Ephs for Relief may consider raising money for another organization in the future, depending on the needs of PIH. “There’s so much money going to PIH right now, it will be great to spread it to others who are on the ground working,” said Janay Clyde ’10, one of the student organizers of Ephs for Relief.

Amherst student Peter Tang ’10, president of the Association for Amherst Students, contacted College Council (CC) proposing the competition. According to Tang, the idea came as a modification of a nationwide fundraising competition started by Stanford University. “We felt that instead of being one of many in a large competition, the cause would be better served through a friendly competition with our natural rival,” Tang said.

On-campus efforts

The student groups on campus have planned myriad fundraising events throughout the competition, including dinners, concerts, truffle and clothing sales, customized T-shirts, hygiene kit assembly and online donations. “Students involved in several groups came together, brought their resources, ideas and manpower, creating an effort that has reached far across campus and has, thus far, been successful,” Clyde said.

So far, several events have been packed with students eager to get involved. The week kicked off with the combination of a bake sale and coffeehouse concert in Paresky on Friday night. Organized by the Williams Christian Fellowship, it featured music ranging from violin to rap. According to Tasha Chu, event organizer, the coffeehouse generated $714 in donations and drew an estimated attendance of over 80 students.

Immediately following the coffeehouse, students swarmed to make hygiene kits in a Williams After Dark activity. Students packed toothbrushes, washcloths, combs, soap and other basic hygiene items into kits to send for distribution by Church World Service. Over $1275 in funding from Williams After Dark, the Dean’s Office, Spencer Neighborhood and Campus Life was used to buy supplies for 200 kits, said Leah Katzelnick ’10, who organized the event with Becky Eakins ’12.

Over 65 students attended the kit assembly event. “I was really impressed – normally for these events, we don’t get that large of a turnout,” Katzelnick said. She hopes to host another kit-making gathering in the future. “People have been so willing to help,” Eakins said, noting that several students came early to the event to help set up for it.

She mentioned that students seemed to take pride in personalizing the kits in ways such as coordinating the colors of the hand towels and washcloths. “[Assembling 200 kits] seemed impossible, but now it seems like that was nothing,” she said.

Student mobilization

“[The earthquake] was a tragic event and people have been responding to it worldwide, but I am surprised at how quickly people have responded,” Rachel Savain ’10 said. She said that last weekend’s fundraising – including the coffeehouse, the kit assembly, a bake sale at a basketball game and ticket sales for the benefit dinner, as well as donations received through the Web site and some of the collection bins raised over $2000. Savain noted that a definite figure of all money raised is not yet available because events are individually organized.

“It’s incredible seeing the number of people who have been involved, taking ownership of the effort,” said Lizzy Brickley ’10, CC co-president. “It’s nice to see the campus finding a common ground.” Hnin Hnin ’10 also commented on the breadth of the efforts. “It’s not just [the Ephs for Relief leaders] who are organizing,” Hnin said. “It’s a whole coalition of students.”

Hnin is working with Savain to organize a truffle sale and a dinner Friday night featuring Haitian recipes. Students crafted handmade truffles in the basement of Paresky for the sale; Dining Services donated the food for the benefit dinner; and staff helped to taste-test dessert recipes, according to Savain and Hnin.

“There are a lot of questions about whether our hygiene kits or money [will] make an impact in Haiti, and these are important questions that I can’t really answer,” Hnin said. “But I think that we are making conscious steps to be as effective and helpful as possible; [we’re] really asking ourselves where resources are most needed and will tangibly improve the situation of earthquake survivors in Haiti.”
Although the fundraising competition against Amherst ends on Friday, students have already begun to brainstorm ways to stay involved with future relief efforts. Students are planning fundraising events throughout February, including a benefit concert with Azaka, a Haitian band from New York City, on Feb. 25 and a student jamboree featuring music and dance groups, planned for Feb. 27.

Long-term goals

Thinking past short-term fundraising goals, Burns and 17 students have formed a committee to focus on establishing long-term projects for Haiti relief and hope to continue working with people in Haiti for several years. Burns noted that one of the committee’s top priorities is establishing a Winter Study course for next year, in which students learn about Haitian history and culture and then travel to Haiti to help with reconstruction efforts.

Burns noted Haiti’s proximity to the United States and the relatively large number of Haitian-American students on campus as reasons, among others, for involvement. “I hope that we can create a long-term relationship, for at least ten years, with at least one organization in Haiti,” Burns said, adding that Haitian hospitals or schools could become potential partner organizations. In addition, Burns has begun considering alternative spring break and summer trips. “This would be experiential education at its best,” Burns said. While students would help Haitian communities, the people they meet would “serve us too, by providing meaning, experience and knowledge to students that makes them better equipped [to complete goals in the future],” he said.

Hnin echoed Burns’ call for a mutual relationship between College students and people living in Haiti. “There are so many issues tied up in the idea of Haiti relief: race, class, environment, politics and poverty and privilege,” Hnin said. “I hope that people are thinking about these issues and engaging with them so that it’s not just about helping Haiti for this one moment but really more about how we can be in solidarity with people in other places who are just trying to live their lives.”