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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis students ‘Hope for Haiti’

Published: January 22, 2010
Section: News

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<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Students gathered in the Shapiro Campus Center Wednesday evening to give both their prayers and dollars at a vigil to honor those killed and injured in Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake. But while Wednesday’s vigil was perhaps the most visible example of the connection between Brandeis and the Caribbean nation, in fact, Brandeis has been involved with Haiti for years.

Shayna Gilbert ’10, who grew up in Mattapan, Mass., but is the daughter of two Haitians, began last night’s vigil saying “I am standing here leading this vigil, but I am wanting to go back to Haiti.”

“My heart is definitely with Haiti right now. It is a beautiful land, with beautiful people and food that tastes amazing, and I don’t know if any nation could get over [the earthquake], but if anyone can, they can.”

This past summer, Gilbert, along with four other students, traveled to Haiti and started the Empowering Through Education camp in order to teach Haitian children both academics and leadership skills.

But beyond visits to Haiti, Brandeis is also home to a sizable Haitian and Haitian-American community which includes both students and staff members, many of whom have family members affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks.

Gilbert explained in an interview that many of these community members have chosen to keep their connections to the earthquake private because of the uncertainty of conditions there.

“There are several students who haven’t heard back yet from the original earthquake,” she said. “But every time there’s an aftershock or news of looters there’s more to be worried about.”

Patrick Medelus ’12, who was born and raised in Haiti, spoke at the Vigil for Haiti about his feelings during this devastating time for his country. Overcome with emotion, Medelus opted to speak in his native Creole, with Gilbert translating to the crowd of roughly 75 students.

“The images on the news are hard for everyone, but they really choke you up when you realize that you played soccer on those same streets when you were younger” he said.

JV Souffrant ’12, who traveled to Haiti with Gilbert this past summer told The Hoot in an interview that many Brandeis community members have looked toward the Brandeis Haitian community to plan relief efforts to Haiti. However, he said the process of mobilizing a large-scale effort is a slow and steady one as many members of the Haitian community on campus are still coping with the aftermath of the earthquake and are trying to take their healing process slowly.

Efforts to raise money for Haiti have been underway on campus all week. Members of the ETE camp have been tabling in the Shapiro Campus Center and has raised $2,473 for Hope for Haiti, ETE camp and the Red Cross as of Thursday night.

Gilbert told The Hoot she hoped some good could come out of the earthquake in the form of educating students about Haiti’s condition. Haiti–once the richest colony in the western hemisphere–is currently the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

“It’s sad that a catastrophe has to happen for people to be interested, but I really hope this leads students, and people in general, to learn about the richness, the culture, how it got so rich and how it got so poor.”

Nate Rosenblum ’10, who visited Haiti with non-profit Hope for Haiti for a week durring winter break and left the country only three days prior to the earthquake, echoed this sentiment at the vigil.

Rosenblum said while many news anchors mentioned how the earthquake is a particularly devastating blow to Haiti because of the country’s poverty, “That’s not the Haiti I saw.”

“You know, when I went to Haiti I was confused for the whole trip,” he said. “People there are so poor, and they have almost no food, and no water, but they are so happy, and friendly, and welcoming. That is what Haiti is.”

Rosenblum is not the only Brandeisian who, despite having no familial connection to Haiti, feels a tie with the nation nonetheless.

At the vigil, Jillian Rexford ’13, who worked at the ETE camp this summer, expressed her deep connection with the people of Haiti.

“In three weeks Haiti will be out of the news. But I hope it will stay in your hearts longer than that,” she said. “This summer was my first time going out of the country, let alone to Haiti, but I now have 43 children invested in Haiti. You don’t need to be of Haitian descent to make a difference.”

Chrissy Callahan, Becca Carden, Jon Ostrowsky and Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this report.