Natural disasters. When you hear about them on the news or read about them in the newspaper, you can never fully realize the immensity of what has happened. Although I’m certain that most people feel intense sympathy for the victims of these events, I think it is fair to say that what really evokes sincere pathos is a human connection. When I discovered that someone I knew had family that lived in Haiti, I was able to more fully comprehend the tragedy of this event. I decided that this time I wouldn’t be a passive supporter of the victims of the disaster – I wanted to be directly involved in the organization of these fundraising events, such as the making and selling of chocolate truffles and in the establishment of long-term programs that will connect Williams to Haiti. I feel that this is why it is so crucial that we all communicate and connect with each other: After establishing friendships, we reach a level of empathy that compels us to desire to do all we can to support one another, especially in times of need.
Following several years of doing fund-raising activities at my high school, I felt well-equipped, eager and excited to be a member of the Haiti Relief Committee. To be honest, I stumbled into organizing the Haitian Relief Benefit Concert by a matter of coincidence. After some idle chit-chat with Ron Gallagher, assistant director of the Office of Career Counseling, he told me about AZAKA, a Haitian band that was hired to perform at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I thought that this would be a brilliant opportunity for Williams to experience Haitian music and culture while helping the people of Haiti.
As a first-year, it was a daunting task to try to organize an event when I had no understanding of how this is achieved at Williams or whom I should talk to. However, with the support of Jessica Gulley, assistant director of Campus Life, and Gallagher, and then with the help of my friends at the final stages of preparation, we managed to get the funding that we needed and secured the venue.
The concert was a great success. We raised around $2250 for Haitian Relief, and all who attended the concert succumbed to AZAKA’s unique sound built on catchy polyrhythms, soulful melodies and a mixture of Haitian and rock instruments. It felt as though through our dancing we connected to Haiti, fully understanding the culture and people who need our aid.
It is astonishing how much money we as a campus have managed to raise for Haitian Relief. At all our fund-raising events there is a poignant sense of unity between the students, faculty and the Williamstown community. We are connected by a shared aspiration to help those in need, and even though we have a relatively small population, our efforts have had exceptional rewards.
I have been inspired by Ghandi’s mantra, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” since childhood. However, this concept can be broadened. Although we should all act as individuals to help those in need and protect the environment, it is as a collective that we have the most power to make changes. In this sense Williams has an incredible capacity to make positive changes in the world. The exceptional sense of cooperation, support and enthusiasm across campus facilitates our ability to pursue our ideals. The ways in which we improve the world can also be achieved by simple activities that we can build into our everyday routines. Williams has many avenues to do this, including becoming a member of the Lehman Council, the Thursday Night Group, Wraps or Catalyst, taking part in the community service work advertised around the campus or tutoring at Hancock Elementary School. These commitments form a special bond with the community and transform people’s lives. But you cannot form this connection to the community unless you make the initial effort to show your interest in helping others.
The greatest lesson that I took from this experience is the realization that it is always worth pursuing your ambitions. It’s tempting to avoid committing yourself to something because you feel inexperienced or unsure about how it will turn out, but if you want to aim high it is clear that Williams College has the facilities and the people to help you achieve your goals.
Following our huge success in raising money for Haiti, I hope that at Williams we will all continue to strive to help the victims of natural disasters, disease and poverty across the globe. Following the recent crisis in Chile we are once again given an opportunity to help others. This time I don’t feel the need for a direct human connection to inspire me to get involved in projects to provide relief to others. It is also through the process of giving aid by actively taking part in projects that we can establish that sense of empathy.