Yalies are hoping to curb dwindling enthusiasm for Haiti relief more than a month after the country experienced a devastating earthquake.
Starting today, events kick off for Haiti Week, a series of educational panels and social events designed to raise awareness and funds for on-going relief efforts for earthquake-struck Haiti. The events — planned by the Yale for Haiti Collaborative, an organization founded after the Jan. 12 catastrophe — are intended to increase awareness of long-term issues in Haiti, University Director of Emergency Management Services Maria Bouffard said, but specific efforts to raise funds, including art auctions and selling ribbons, will also be made throughout the week.
Activities designed to inform students include lunch-time discussions on topics such as health and politics, and meeting and listening to the School of Medicine team that traveled to Haiti last month.
Haiti Week was conceived by Sheree Bennett GRD ’10, a Jamaican graduate student in political science who previously worked in Haiti for her dissertation on the island nation’s local development and governance. Bennett said she intended to preserve some of the attention that had been given to Haiti in the wake of earthquake in order to provide a more forum to discuss larger underlying problems facing Haiti.
“After the moral compulsion to act, and the media attention declines, you tend to kind of lose track of things,” she said.
Indeed, in interviews with 22 students, only seven said they were aware of the existence of Haiti Week, and all of them said they think the majority of the student body remains uninformed about the tragedy now that initial attention has dissipated.
But Bennett said she is not surprised by this lack of awareness, adding that this attitude in part drives the Haiti Week initiative. Jean Philip-Brignol ’10, who is of Haitian descent and is involved in the Collaborative, said he agrees that the purpose of this week is to enlighten students about the history and problems that concern Haiti.
“Yalies are willing to help,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making it accessible to them.”
Bouffard said she disagrees with the idea of a lack of student engagement due to “unbelievable” amount of interest she has witnessed over the past month. She added that she has no reason to believe people will not participate in Haiti Week.
This semester, the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project Fast, a biennial Dwight Hall campaign that asks students to donate their meal swipes for one day, will give a portion of the money Yale Dining saves on food purchases to Haiti relief. Jill Hagey ’11, co-coordinator of Dwight Hall’s student executive committee, said the campaign provides an “easy way” for busy college students to contribute to the relief effort.
The YHHAP Fast is just one of several efforts to raise money this week. Organizers will also ask for individual donations that can be made during any Haiti Week event.
Bouffard, Bennett and Brignol said they have not discussed making Haiti Week an annual event, but Bennett added that there are good prospects of having another Haiti Week in the future. She said there are other long-term efforts planned for this year, including additional panels and potentially another benefit concert.
Bouffard said the relief efforts at Yale have so far raised around $67,000 out the $100,000 target announced before the first benefit concert in January. She said she is optimistic about Haiti Week’s ability to close the fundraising gap.
“It would be great, wouldn’t it?” she said. “I always see the glass half full.”