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Friday, January 21, 2022
Searching for buried hope: UW students work to keep Haiti fresh in our minds

Haiti: UW students, like those pictured above, reached out to Haiti after its devastating earthquake. It remains to be seen, however, if international support for the country will continue.

Searching for buried hope: UW students work to keep Haiti fresh in our minds

The latest estimated death toll from Haiti's recent earthquake is 212,000, according Haiti's prime minister. The United Nations has reported that more than 300,000 are injured and three million have been affected worldwide by the earthquake.

As the Haitian earthquake approaches its two-month anniversary, the world's attention has shifted, burying the country's continuing crisis in our minds deeper than the rubble covering its streets.

It is important that not forget about Haiti because the hardest work usually starts after weeks or months, when ""most of the news crews have left,"" according to UNICEF.

Paul Thompson, a disaster man- agement expert from InterWorks, said although there are hundreds of NGOs supporting emergency shelter in Haiti, the international media cov- erage on Haiti has already declined.

""It used to be on the front page every day for two and a half weeks, and now it has shifted to the inside. It's not even a daily news story anymore,"" Thompson said. ""But in fact,

the crisis will continue for a long time and get worse in some respects because the rainy season is now starting.""

Thompson said the hurricane season in Haiti usually lasts from June through October, which could bring another disaster to Haitians living under streets and parks that became flooded and turn into mud.

Some UW-Madison students are worrying that so many Haitians in need will be forgotten once again.

UW-Madison graduate student Gergens Polynice, whose home country is Haiti and who was in Haiti hours before the earthquake, said he felt news coverage on Haiti has become less prominent and that Haiti will have to manage the country on its own.

""Every news story dies down at one point. It's now up to the Haitian leadership to take matters into their own hands,"" Polynice said. ""Having hope in other people and other countries, I really think, is a false hope because peo- ple's emotions will die down when Haiti is not the headline news.""

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According to Thompson, the decline in awareness after a natural disaster is a result of the media's attention turning to other news stories.

""It's pretty universal that a community at large, or international community, forgets about the disaster,"" Thompson said.

Thompson explained it is expensive and inconvenient to rebuild more stable homes, even if that means families must live for years in houses that have been destroyed by the earthquake.

""But even local people do not learn the lesson from the past disaster,"" he said.

A Turning Point

Polynice said although the earthquake was a terrible tragedy, it may serve as a turning point to bring the country toward a better education system, alternative energy sources, infrastructure improvements and international policy discussions. But he is worried people will soon hear nothing about rebuilding the devastated island and forget his people.

""Overall [the support] has been positive but I'm hoping there could be a consensus where all of these efforts are not vain and some of these

[Haitian's] lives could be changed for the best,"" Polynice said.

Polynice currently works on a small water purification plan with a group called Polyultra. He sees this as a way of helping Haitians in the long run because he said the water purification program is more cost- effective than transporting water from outside of the country.

Moreover, some of the profits from the project go to education scholarships for Haitian children because the majority of schools in Haiti are private even though most people live in poverty.

Polynice's family members are all safe, but he is planning to go back to Haiti next month to give more support. He hopes to bring clean water and provide irrigation systems to Haitian farmers.

""While the headlines about Haiti go away, which is expected, there are caring people who are still very much involved in helping the Haitian community,"" Polynice said. ""I appreciate all the UW students for their overwhelming response to the earthquake in Haiti.""

To Haiti, From Wisconsin

UW students and community have responded to the destruction in Haiti by raising awareness of Haitian relief efforts and donating thousands of dollars to the Red Cross through various individual efforts and student organization events.

""It's just terrible and sad that sometimes it takes something of this magnitude to encourage people to want to help,"" UW- Madison senior Lauren Cohen said. ""People need to continue or this story is going to die. I feel like it already has.""

Cohen and three other UW- Madison students, Anna Misheev, Molly Bennett and Brittney Green, organized a Haiti relief bake sale at Lucky Apartments on Jan. 28.

""When tragedy strikes, it is every person's moral responsibility to get out there,"" Misheev said. ""It may be hard sometimes to do something on your own, so to recruit your friends and do some- thing as a group is an ideal way to help others.""

The bake sale was a collabora- tion among friends, residents and local businesses. Fresh Madison Market, Starbucks and Einstein Bros. Bagels also donated cup- cakes, coffee and bagels to the girls' bake sale. In total, they raised a total of $775 for the Red Cross.

Another way the campus joined relief efforts was through the Haiti Day of Action. The event took place on the same day as the bake sale. It was arranged by the Associated Students of Madison along with the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group, and included several student orga- nizations as well as a local busi- ness, Zander's Capitol Grill.

The day was an opportunity for the campus to work together and show support for Haiti. Zander's, located on State Street, placed a donation box in the restaurant to raise money.

Following the daylong event, the university's student radio station, WSUM, hosted a dance party with a $5 donation for the Red Cross at the door.

According to ASM Vice Chair Tom Templeton, the event raised over $7,000 throughout the day.

""I thought [the Haiti Day of Action] was great. I think we showed that students are con- cerned and interested in giving back and being able to aid a country in need,"" Templeton said.

Colleen Rooney, a WISPIRG coordinator who participated in the Day of Action, said student organizations' support for Haiti has declined but WISPIRG and ASM are still trying to raise awareness to keep up the relief efforts.

What's Next?

Rooney said ASM and WISPIRG plan to form a committee that will work toward Haiti relief efforts and that anyone can get involved in.

Students can also get involved by donating money to the UW-Madison Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Haiti Program, which is dedicated to improving Haitians' lives by repair- ing bridges, roads and water pipes.

Several EWB members went to Bayonnais, a city in Haiti, prior to the earthquake for an assessment trip to build a pipeline to provide drinking water. They had to escape when the earthquake hit the country, but the team is planning to go back to Haiti sometime in June.

Eyleen Chou, president of EWB, said it is understandable people are paying less attention one month after the catastrophe, but she hopes that people will still try to learn about Haiti.

""I hope that people try to con- tribute to some recovery effort proj- ects to help the country to recover from bottom up,"" Chou said. ""[Engineers Without Borders] will be supporting the community in any way we can, especially in rural villages and we will be supporting them with sending money.""

Thompson said continued support is ""indespensible.""

""[Student participation] is extremely important, because this campus is huge,"" Rooney said. ""There are over 40,000 students that go here, and we have an opportunity to get so many students involved. The more students we can get involved, the bigger difference we can make.""

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