Grief and Relief

NEWS

The earthquake hit Haiti on a Tuesday at 4:53 p.m. Less than 24 hours later, a meeting room on the Boca campus was filled past capacity with members of the FAU community who had come together to learn more and help however they could.

Although every member of Konbit Kreyol — a Haitian student organization — was still waiting to hear from family or friends in Haiti, the group had already spearheaded a university-wide relief effort and begun boxing donations to ship to Haiti before the week ended.

“It’s amazing to me,” said Konbit Kreyol Internal Vice President Mikerlande “Mickey” Erilus of the response. “Just sitting here at the [Breezeway drop-off] table having people that never knew about us bringing us clothes and food, it really shows how much people really care about us.”

In order to transport donations to Haiti, Konbit Kreyol has partnered with the General Consulate of Haiti in Miami. The organization is also working with Food for the Poor, a non-profit organization that operates in the Americas and Caribbean.

The greater FAU community has also banded together around the organization, from the Office of Multicultural Affairs to the Counseling Center, and from the Black Student Union & Multicultural Programming to the Student Government Association.

“I think the really great thing about this whole effort has been that it’s been one united contribution,” explained Tiffany Weimar, student body president. “From our end, we’ve made sure it’s university-wide.”

FAU has been especially impacted by the tragedy because of a large number of Haitian students. According to university officials, 370 students — or more than one out of every 100 — at FAU were born in Haiti.

Konbit Kreyol, which is two decades old and was recognized as the student organization of the year for 2008-2009, is FAU’s largest student club.

Despite the organization’s size, every member has been personally affected by the tragedy.

“Everybody has at least somebody they haven’t heard from or they can’t find,” said Erilus a few days after the earthquake. “It’s really heart-wrenching because we don’t know. There’s no phone connection, there’s no nothing. We feel kind of helpless because it’s like you can’t do much.”

While people like Erilus did eventually learn the whereabouts of family members in Haiti, a 6.1-magnitude aftershock that hit the country eight days later left them fearing again for the safety of relatives still located in the country.

“I got in contact with them on Friday [Jan. 15],” said Konbit Kreyol President Jamar Germain of his family a week after the initial earthquake. “However, there was another earthquake this morning [Jan. 20], so I’m looking to get in contact with them to see if they survived that one.”

As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been especially impacted by the earthquake. Eighty percent of the Caribbean country’s population lives below the poverty line, and only 53 percent of adults are literate, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The combination of a lack of preparedness and a lack of education made the earthquake particularly devastating.

“They weren’t prepared for anything like that, the way their houses are built,” explained Erilus. “They were not prepared, so not many people knew what to do. Some people were in the streets, so they ran inside for safety, so that ended up killing them, because of a lack of knowledge.”

The frequency of natural disasters in Haiti has only further held the country back, according to assistant professor of history Kristen Block.

“The fact that Haiti is in a region prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes — as many as 100 earthquakes may have occurred in the 1700s — certainly hasn’t helped the country achieve its promise,” she explained.

Konbit Kreyol expects to continue its relief efforts for perhaps a year, according to Nashyka Jospitre, the organization’s events coordinator. They have even assembled a committee to oversee earthquake relief efforts.

“This isn’t something that will go away in a couple of months or a couple of weeks or days,” said Jospitre. “This will be dealt with for years to come.”

 

Help is on the way

Whether you want to help earthquake relief efforts or just need someone to speak to about the tragedy, here’s where to turn:


DONATIONS:

Clothing, first-aid items and non-perishable food (that does not require a can opener) can be dropped off at the following locations:

Boca:

SU 215 (Student Government)

Broward:

Davie Student Union, LA 109, LA 122, HEC 507 and ST 119 (lobby)

Jupiter:

SR 119 (Student Affairs)

Treasure Coast:

JU 113 (Student Services)

Harbor Branch:

Cafeteria

VOLUNTEERS:

Anyone interested in volunteering to sort and pack up donations should contact:

FAU Weppner Center for Civic Engagement and Service

(561) 297-3607

Mikerlande “Mickey” Erilus

(or any other Konbit Kreyol board member)

Internal vice president for Konbit Kreyol

[email protected]

Anyone interested in helping to organize a benefit should contact student body President Tiffany Weimar or Vice President Collene O’Reilly at [email protected].

COUNSELING:

The FAU Counseling Center is giving priority to anyone who wishes to speak to a counselor about the tragedy. The Counseling Center can be reached at:

Boca: (561) 297-3540

Davie: (954) 236-1210

Jupiter: (561) 799-8621

[Sources: Konbit Kreyol Jan. 14 meeting minutes courtesy of student body Vice President Collene O’Reilly; Mikerlande “Mickey” Erilus, internal vice president for Konbit Kreyol; student body President Tiffany Weimar; FAU Announcement; Andrew Wurman, associate director of the Boca Counseling Center]