One year later, no word from Haiti

In January 2010, Yalies sprung into action to assist the devastated nation of Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near capital city Port-au-Prince, planning small fundraisers and raising campus awareness during “Haiti Week.” But one year later, the University has no concrete plans for relief in Haiti.

Then-Haitian ambassador to the United States Raymond Alcide Joseph visited campus last February to meet with various University officials and plead for aid — but Maria Bouffard, director of emergency management services, said the University was not able to make the commitment he sought because Haitian officials did not continue conversations after the visit. Joseph stepped down from his post to launch a failed campaign for the presidency last summer, and a representative from the Haitian Embassy in Washington, DC, said the country has not yet chosen a new ambassador.

While some students and faculty have carried out their own independent projects to assist the island nation, Bouffard said Haiti never followed through on the initial talks.

“[Haitian representatives] were supposed to come back and contact us with some ideas, and we were then supposed to filter them through our schools,” said Maria Bouffard, director of emergency management services. “Unfortunately we never moved forward with it.”

Regardless of Haiti’s future internal relief plans, Associate University Secretary and Director of International Affairs Donald Filer said that Yale’s doors remain open should Haiti renew its plea for assistance.

“Although we have not been called upon by the Ambassador, Yale’s offer still stands,” Filer said. “I believe that interest in Haiti is still strong among students and faculty.”

Yale is not the only university Joseph reached out to when he traveled throughout the United States to raise awareness about efforts to rebuild in Haiti early last year.

Christina Paxson, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said Joseph’s visit to Princeton in April prompted several relief initiatives, including the development of disaster relief technologies through the university’s engineering departments. The Woodrow Wilson School also held a graduate-level policy workshop on Haitian development, she added, which culminated in a report on Haitian business development strategies for the Clinton-Bush Fund, a relief organization created after the quake.

But while Bouffard said Yale anticipated continued dialogue with Haiti after Joseph’s visit, Paxson said Princeton saw its relationship with the ambassador differently.

“It was not my expectation that the Ambassador’s office would send us project ideas or proposals after he left Princeton,” Paxson said. “Rather, we saw his visit as a wonderful opportunity for members of the Princeton community to learn how we could constructively contribute to Haiti’s reconstruction.”

Both short-term projects and long-term collaboration between Yale and Haiti since the earthquake has been initiated by members of the University’s graduate and professional schools.

Two teams from the Medical School traveled to Haiti to treat injured victims as soon as one month after the earthquake. Emergency medicine specialist Gregory Larkin, who headed one of the teams, said he has personally continued to assist Haiti through several channels. He said he has helped the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in central Haiti with cholera containment and treatment and joined the University of Notre Dame’s efforts to reduce the spread of disease in Haiti.

In addition to raising more than $20,000 for relief organizations, Yale Law School has allowed some of its clinic students to help Haitian refugees apply for temporary protected status, said spokesperson Janet Conroy. She added that these students also traveled to Florida to help refugees held at a detainee center.

Robert Lamothe ’77, a Haitian professor who teaches Creole to independent language study students, said it is important that students and faculty interested in Haitian relief learn more about the nation’s culture and customs. To this end, he said, the University should add more structure to its academic offerings on Haiti.

“One first needs to learn about the country and its manners,” he said. “Sometimes, you have empty words or promises, and no one is taking the initiatives.”

Haiti’s crisis in the wake of the earthquake has made its mark on the Yale curriculum. Gordon Geballe GRD ’81, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ associate dean of student and alumni affairs, is teaching a new class this semester, “Haiti: Sustainable Development in the Post-Disaster Context.” Geballe said he came up with the idea for the course after the earthquake last year and now plans to offer the course for five years.

Geballe said that through Gary Desir MED ’80 from the School of Medicine, the Schweitzer Hospital has invited students in the course to prepare proposals for projects in agro-forestry, malnutrition problems, technology, water quality and hospital management. The group will head to Haiti this spring break and over the summer to assess the feasibility of the projects, he added.

“Sitting here in New Haven, it’s hard to be accurate with what’s on the ground in Haiti,” he said.

Geballe said the School of Public Health helped develop his new course, adding that its students comprise approximately half of the students in his class.

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