I am sitting in a lecture hall, taking notes on Don Quixote and thinking about lunch, when an earthquake hits. It is a 6.1 on the Richter scale and that means that it brings buildings down. That means that schools turn to rubble and church towers, like Battell Chapel’s, topple. This is not a fabrication — it took place this past Wednesday. But the earthquake struck Haiti, not New Haven, on the 12th of January and it was merely an aftershock of an original 7.0 quake.
On Wednesday, as I sit in lecture, a friend sitting next to me points out the news headline about the aftershock on his laptop. He and I exchange a look, but have nothing to say. It is as though this most recent aftershock were just one more line in a litany of disaster that is as removed from us as the novels and poems we’re studying in our literature class.
How, then, can students make any sense of what is going on in Haiti? How is it possible that something that brought mass devastation to an entire country a world away can barely register in New Haven? After speaking with Arlene Barochin ’10, a student of Haitian heritage, I began to understand why it is both so difficult and so necessary for us to try to comprehend the nation’s current state.
“I don’t think people will be able to understand the scope of the devastation that Haiti faces. If you’re not in the situation it’s very difficult to understand,” Arlene warned me.
Well, no. Actually, that was me warning you. First, Arlene put her experience in these terms:
“Imagine if your grandma or grandpa lost everything they had. And they were on the floor, and their friends were dead … Imagine your aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, mother, father, close friends — dead, missing and without their homes. It’s a very difficult thing to conceive, but the best thing to do is close your eyes and imagine it yourself. Imagine the people you went to school with losing their homes. Missing, dead, injured. Nowhere to be found.”
Arlene, despite the difficulty her family is currently facing, also managed to put the tragedy in perspective.
“I think what I really want to say is that this is a global human issue. It’s not just a Haitian issue.”
She elaborated, mentioning the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Christmas Day Tsunami in Thailand. “It happened to Haiti this time. Who knows what country or island or state it could happen to next time. I think people should think about it that way — and about the way they are narrating this story.”
Arlene spoke about the enormous value of the human capital at Yale, about how students could contribute five or ten percent of their time to the cause. She doesn’t expect or wish for everyone to drop everything they’re doing, but to keep Haiti in mind as they continue contributing to their community at school, in New Haven, or elsewhere.
But that’s not to say the response here has been mute: Yale as an institution has taken action. The University has held a benefit concert, donated money, raised awareness, and provided emotional support for students who sought grief counseling or wished to speak with the Chaplain’s office. There are even efforts underway to form a long-term response to the tragedy, organized as the “Yale for Haiti Collaborative,” and various clubs are also taking the initiative on their own to raise money, awareness, and support.
Klib Kreyol, for example, which exists as a place for Haitan and non-Haitian students to learn about Haiti and seek a community, will continue to adhere to its mission, wrote Jean-Phillip Brignol ’10 in an e-mail. Jean-Phillip is a member of Klib Kreyol’s executive committee and of Haitian descent.
“Statistics don’t really give the whole story about Haiti’s political social and economic structure. We just hope that people sustain the level of interest in Haiti that they have now,” he wrote. “But our group will remind people about Haiti whenever it seems that it is going to be forgotten.”
For now, there is a long list of events and efforts still underway.
Barbara Shanlay, assistant to the Yale School of Art Dean Storr, held a yoga class on Thursday to raise money for the William J. Clinton Foundation for the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. She said that when she spoke with other administrators at the School of Art about the idea, her colleagues decided to host a silent auction of art to benefit victims of the earthquake, which will take place from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, with the donated works of art on display at Green Hall Gallery, 1156 Chapel St.
Other initiatives include a benefit dance on Friday at 10 p.m. at La Casa Cultural (301 Crown St.) held by the Dominican Student Association & One (suggested donation: $3) and a clinic held by the women’s lacrosse team on Sunday at SONO Field House in Norwalk to raise funds, with a Red Cross Representative present.
If you are interested in being involved, a ‘Yale for Haiti Task Force’ will meet today at 3 p.m. in Burke Hall. Everyone interested in helping coordinate long-term efforts to rebuilding Haiti is encouraged to attend.