College community members donated a total of $10,524 to relief work during Haiti Relief Week (Feb. 5 to 12). The total amount was announced by student group Ephs for Relief on Feb. 13. In addition, Amherst raised $7500 over the course of the week.
Haiti Relief Week, co-sponsored by Amherst and the College as a competition between the two schools, raised money for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that claimed over 200,000 lives. The events of the week included dinners, clothing sales and other functions such as lectures, which, while not strictly philanthropic in nature, promoted awareness of the country’s plight. According to Lizzy Brickley ’10, College Council (CC) co-president, the majority of donations came from students, both through participation in events and through independent contributions. Contributions also came from alumni, parents, staff and faculty.
Haiti Relief Week was the culmination of many separate student groups’ efforts to provide aid to the afflicted country. The informal organization that spontaneously formed at the community meeting on Jan. 18 ultimately became Ephs for Relief at a follow-up meeting involving many current Haiti Relief Week event organizers. “This group of committee facilitators, plus Lizzy Brickley and Mike Techeyan [’10, CC co-presidents], formed a loose coordinating committee, which makes overall decisions like which activities to prioritize and where to contribute the money raised,” said Stewart Burns, coordinator of the Center for Community Engagement. Despite a common donor fund and recipient – all funds raised over the week will go to Partners in Health, which is providing emergency health care in Haiti – Ephs for Relief does not serve as a formal committee directly presidinging over discrete groups’ efforts; each event was independently organized.
Rachel Savain ’10 dismissed suggestions that groups’ autonomy hampered organization. Although there were “some minor issues as far as putting together a timeframe, the lack of a central group didn’t make a difference,” she said. Savain emphasized the spontaneity with which students mobilized relief efforts, and described the initial planning as “reaction-based,” noting that “it wasn’t as if we already had a humanitarian group already together.”
Burns echoed Savain’s sentiments. “As often happens in a crisis situation when committees and tasks have to be organized quickly, activists don’t have time to create clear organizational structures,” he said. “The loose structure has worked very well so far, because students have come up with a larger number of fundraising and other activities than would have been the case with a more centralized structure.”
Nonetheless, Burns stressed the importance of a more formal, consolidated organization. “It made sense for the students to be free to act on their own initially in order to encourage the movement to grow quickly and broadly, but at a certain point, it is important to form some kind of more permanent structure,” he said.
Burns heads a committee focused on developing long-term relations with Haiti. Comprising 17 students, the committee is currently investigating indigenous organizations with which to establish ties. Potential groups include neighborhood-based organizations, cooperatives, hospitals and colleges. Interactions would concentrate on a specific organization or program to avoid over-allocating resources. “The Williams community should not spread itself thin but rather help in focused, tangible, measurable ways over a ten-year period or longer,” Burns said, underscoring the long recovery the country faces. “You could call [the committee’s candidates] humanitarian missions, but they would be aimed at specific reconstruction efforts that might take years to bear fruit.” Burns hopes that the long-term planning committee’s efforts to organize spring break, summer and Winter Study trips will culminate in a regularly offered junior year study abroad program.
Burns likened the relationship his committee hopes to develop with Haitian organizations to that of Haiti Plunge, a North Adams-based humanitarian mission. Founded in 1983, Haiti Plunge has led annual trips to Haiti to work on agricultural cooperatives 45 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Although Haiti Plunge annually sends six teams consisting of local high school and college students, historic relations between the College and Haiti Plunge have been limited. Since the earthquake, however, there has been increased collaboration between the College and Haiti Plunge, which will distribute the hygiene kits assembled over Haiti Relief Week.
This month, Director of Health Services Ruth Harrison and College Nurse Carol Stein-Payne are traveling with members of Haiti Plunge. Going as private individuals, Harrison and Stein-Payne are taking unpaid leave to distribute medical supplies and establish clinics from Feb. 17 to Feb. 27. Although no College students are participating in their 10-day relief effort, Stein-Payne suggested the possibility of future relations. “I think it would be wonderful if Williams students got involved … [there are] very likely connections for Williams students in the future,” she said.
As of yet, no further formal connections are planned, nor is the College subsidizing the nurses’ trip in any way. In addition to distributing student-prepared hygiene kits, the Haiti Plunge mission will distribute water purifiers, blankets and clothing.
Despite the formalization of committees and focus on establishing long-term relationships, Burns is optimistic that the spontaneity displayed in the last few weeks will be facilitated by more formal organizations. “Permanent structure will keep the momentum building and prevent students from burning out,” he said. Savain agreed, citing an upcoming Feb. 25 concert, Feb. 27 jamboree and potential future inter-college collaborative efforts.