Haiti struggles to rebuild after massive earthquake

By Alyssa Creamer

An estimated 200,000 were killed in the Caribbean nation of Haiti due to a massive earthquake, leaving 1.5 million people homeless, according to widespread reports from media outlets still struggling themselves to maintain a foothold in the devastated country.

The tragedy in Haiti struck close to home when it claimed the life of Smith College alumna Lisa Mbele-Mbong ’93, who was killed in the collapse of the United Nations building when the earthquake struck. According to the Washington Post, Mbele-Mbong was killed instantly, after being struck by a falling piece of concrete. Although most of her colleagues survived in the basement of the U.N. compound, nearly 400 of the organization’s workers are listed as killed or missing, almost guaranteeing that the U.N. will be facing the greatest casualties in its history due to the natural disaster.

Mbele-Mbong worked in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince as a human rights officer, and leaves behind her parents Helena and Samuel Mbele-Mbong, a sister, and her 10-year-old son, Nady.

As aid for victims of the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti last week continues to be flown in, a group of University of Massachusetts students seek to see how many text messages from the UMass community have been sent to support the victims.

A project to tally the amount of monetary support the UMass community has given to the victims of Haiti will launch on Jan. 19. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day until the tentative date of Jan. 22, students can bring their cell phones to the campus center concourse with a outbox receipt proving they donated to the Red Cross by texting “Haiti” to 90999 to aid efforts.

UMass graduate student of public health Matthew Sloan and his Pi Kappa Phi brothers Russell Brown and Joshua Slocum piloted this project with the initial goal of discovering that 50 members of the UMass community had donated to the Red Cross. However, the group anticipates a much greater turnout during the week.

Fraternity members designed a display from a wooden plank and plexiglass. Red foam numbers can be inserted in between to show the running total. When students and staff go to the booth set up in the campus center to show proof of their donation, they can update the board themselves.

“We’re trying to reach out and find how many students have already contributed to support the relief effort and create a visual of that,” said Sloan. “That visual [will serve] as an inspiration to other people who might be considering making donations.”

“It is always difficult to see what people have been doing to help support others across the world, but when there is a visual sign, people can know what is being done,” said Brown. “I think back to when we made ramps for the handicapped, and every day I can walk by and see how our actions have helped others.”

Sloan said he is planning to meet with the Student Government Association (SGA) on Wednesday to discuss collaborating their fundraising efforts. Pi Kappa Phi would help promote this fundraiser – and those of other student groups – and those funds would be included in the UMass tally.

Fraternity members are also considering ways to track progress of material goods donated as well. Students who donated to Haiti relief via other outlets besides the text message system will also be counted in the group’s tally, provided they give proper evidence of their donation.

At the conclusion of the project, Pi Kappa Phi will send out a mass e-mail to those who contributed to the relief efforts.

Sloan said that the project began to form after the Jan. 13 e-mail was sent to the entire campus by Chancellor Robert Holub.

In the e-mail, Holub wrote, “While information coming from Haiti has been difficult to obtain, it is clear that this disaster will require both immediate and long-term assistance.  The people of Haiti, and their family and friends here and around the world, need our assistance.”

Holub’s e-mail reported that he is asking the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life and the International Programs Office for the best recommendations on how to assist in Haiti. Sloan interpreted the e-mail as a call to form his own ideas to contribute.

“We felt like he was asking students to think about things they could do to support the efforts,” said Sloan. “We’re hoping that during this first week, we’ll have a presence in the campus center, and it will jog their memory [to donate].”

According to its website, the “Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.” The website also quoted the Red Cross’ President and CEO Gail McGovern, saying “[The Red Cross’] focus now is on the immediate relief for the people of Haiti, but make no mistake, this is going to be a massive long-term recovery operation.”

People trying to locate U.S. citizens living or traveling in Haiti should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747 or (202) 647-5225.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected] Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]