Severe was in Haiti when the earthquake — claiming a reported 150,000 lives — struck, and his emotional speech recalled the chaos he witnessed. “Homes were in ruins and bodies lay in the streets giving you no choice but to walk over them,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much fear and pain in my life.”
However, a glimmer of hope appeared almost immediately, according to Severe. “People began pulling out others from the rubble and opening their doors to complete strangers.” Severe added that, “great solidarity was shown.”
The vigil, sponsored by the Haitian Student Association and the Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma and Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternities, focused on the need for solidarity and hope amongst all supporters in overcoming the disaster.
In his welcome address, President David Skorton emphasized the need for the Cornell community to get involved, emphasizing the University’s “commitment to the members of our human family who lost their lives in Haiti.”
According to Prof. Kenneth Hover, civil and environmental engineering the Cornell community's commitment to Haiti relief efforts has become evident from students’ continued support for the University-run GHESKIO medical clinic in Port-Au-Prince, which currently shelters more than 5,000 refugees in a makeshift tent community.
The clinic was established in 1982 as the first global institution dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS, but since the earthquake it has instead provided humanitarian assistance and emergency care to those affected by the disaster.
According to Kenya Desiste ’10, Co-Chair of the Haitian Students Association, student organizations have also begun to take action as well.
Desiste recently convened a meeting between campus leaders to brainstorm and collect fundraising initiatives. In addition, her association is planning weekly bake sales and a banquet in March.
Desiste believes small collaborative efforts can make a great difference for the people of Haiti, and she said she hoped to get that message across to those who attended the vigil. “We want people to realize that Haiti has been going through terrible things for decades and although this is the worst, Haitians are strong people and won’t lose hope,” she said.
On a recent visit to Haiti, Hover took photos of the destruction he witnessed. The photos, which were presented at the vigil, showed piles of rubble where houses once stood and cardboard signs pleading for basic necessities like water and food.
Hover says the photos serve as a reminder for the work that lies ahead after the media spotlight dims. “When we see these images we need to feel their pain here in Ithaca.”