Campus plans relief efforts for Haiti

When Jean-Phillip Brignol ’10 received a text message from his aunt in Florida on Tuesday, he did not quite understand what it meant. But when he returned to his suite, reality set in.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake had struck and devastated his parents’ homeland of Haiti, causing widespread destruction in Port-au-Prince, the capital city. His own uncle and grandmothers could not be reached. Brignol himself had left Haiti only four days before, he said, after two weeks of vacation there.

As images of the devastation in Haiti — of people injured in the streets and the presidential palace collapsing — have stirred people to action worldwide, Yale administrators and the University’s Haitian community are pitching in with their own relief efforts.

Arlene Barochin ’10, whose parents are Haitian, said she found out about the tragedy on CNN. Her first thought was, “Not again.” (Haiti has suffered a spate of natural disasters over the last decade, including mud slides, floods and hurricanes.)

Barochin did not register the gravity of the situation, she said, until the phone rang. It was her mother, confirming the news from Florida. She told Barochin that some of her aunts, uncles and cousins were missing.

Barochin said few things have ever been more shocking in her life.

“I can literally say I’m seeing a nightmare unfold before my eyes,” she said.

To raise funds for emergency agencies in Haiti, various campus organizations will host a benefit concert, called “Help Can’t Wait Haiti,” at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall on Monday. The project is a joint effort of Haitian student group Klub Kreyol, the School of Music, Dwight Hall, the Chaplain’s Office, the Yale West Indian Students’ Organization, the Afro-American Cultural Center, and several other student groups.

Director of Yale Bands Thomas Duffy and the School of Music will produce the show, whose performers include the Yale Concert Band, Glee Club and Symphony Orchestra, the Yale Gospel Choir, Shades, Whim ’N Rhythm, the Whiffenpoofs and Schola Cantorum, according to a campuswide e-mail from University Secretary Linda Lorimer.

“In our human story, we are now faced with an incredible opportunity to turn this into something where we are committed to make a difference in a country that has been in such dire need for such a long time,” University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said. “It is in times like these we take action.”

Barochin said she thinks the earthquake has shed light on the problems Haiti has dealt with for a long time. Right now, she said, it is impossible for anyone to escape the tragedy in Haiti — on television, Facebook or Twitter.

Both Barochin and Brignol are on the executive committee of Klub Kreyol, and they said they hope to hold food and clothing drives and to raise awareness of issues in Haiti.

Still, recovery in Haiti will be difficult,, said Linda DeGutis, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the School of Public Health and an expert in disaster relief. She said the emergency agencies distributing the funds would take care of essential needs for the earthquake victims, but the overall cost of rebuilding Haiti is impossible to predict.

In Haiti, relief workers remain focused on helping victims survive day to day.

Barochin has since heard that her aunts and uncles have been found, and Brignol has since discovered that his immediate family is alive.

“They said they are OK,” he said. “And OK is relative to their situation.”

As of Thursday, 50,000 people have died in Haiti since the earthquake, according to Red Cross estimates.

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