January 24, 2010

Cornell Students Join Haiti Relief Effort

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“Their homes are wrecked. They’re sleeping outside. There’s no food or water. Everyone’s alive, but it’s not a good living situation,” Ashley Jeanlus ’11, the treasurer of the Haitian Students Association and the daughter of two Haitian immigrants, said describing the majority of her family members who still live in Haiti.

Still, she added: “I’m very lucky and privileged that my family members are alive.”

Kenya Desiste ’10, co-president of the HSA, and also the daughter of two Haitian-born parents, said that for her the scariest part of the ordeal was watching the events unfold on TV and not knowing where everyone in her family was. With communication networks down, it took both women several days to hear from their family members in Haiti.

As it turned out, Desiste had an aunt working at one of the hospitals that collapsed and two young cousins at one of the schools that was destroyed. Luckily, however, no one in her immediate family was killed.

For now, several of her family members are staying with a relative who lives farther away from Port-au-Prince and whose house was unharmed.

“They’re really trying to survive day by day,” she said.

Back at Cornell, the two students are part of a vast effort to provide support for the country.

“You always hear about tsunamis and other disasters happening and of course your heart goes out to them,” Jeanlus said, “but this is the country I could’ve been born in if I’d just been born one generation earlier, and I know it’s my family members who are in this.”

Today, the Haitian Students Association is organizing a meeting for campus leaders to coordinate and collaborate on ideas for campus efforts. There will also be a symposium held to discuss the science, engineering and social implications of the earthquake.

HSA co-president Albert Lee ’10 said he has been happy to see so many organizations around campus reaching out to help with Haiti relief. He stressed that there needs to be cooperation between groups to ensure that “the [number] of events on campus are manageable and can attract larger audience and keep people engaged.”

On Tuesday there will be a public panel discussion on Haiti at the Africana Studies and Research Center to put a “scholarly perspective on Haiti in place,” according to Kenneth I. Clarke, Sr., director of Cornell United Religious Work. That evening there will also be a relief concert given by the Cornell University Glee Club.

The HSA is sponsoring a candlelight vigil Thursday night along with the Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, and Sigma Alpha Mu fraternities. According to Andrew Brokman ’11, one of the event’s organizers, as well as a University Assembly member and Sigma Alpha Mu brother, there will be poems, songs and possibly a first-hand account by a survivor of the earthquake.

President David Skorton is expected to attend the vigil, as part of what Kent Hubbell ’67, Dean of Students, calls Skorton’s “plans to really mobilize the University to support Haiti.”

Last week, Skorton sent an e-mail to the Cornell community urging members to support the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections (GHESKIO). The Port-au-Prince clinic was founded by Dr. Jean Pape, who was a graduate of Weill Cornell Medical College in 1975 and now a professor of medicine at WCMC.

The GHESKIO clinic was the first institution in the world dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and they plan to continue this mission by providing aid to the thousands of people camped near the clinic as well as emergency medical and surgical care to those affected by the earthquake.

The five Cornell students and staff members who were working at the clinic at the time of the earthquake have all been reported safe, including Elizabeth Fox ’09 whose guest column recounting the tale of her survival can be found on page 8.

Additionally, Loreen Geiger of the Office of the Dean of Students said there are 12 students from Haiti at Cornell, as well as four who have graduated.

“It appears that all of our students are in good health and will be returning to Cornell … but things can change,” Hubbell said.

As aftershocks continue to plague Haiti, Jeanlus hopes that the whole Cornell community will step up to help out campus efforts to provide support to the Red Cross and the GHESKIO clinic.

“It’s still not over yet.”

Original Author: Jasmine Marcus