Geneseo helps Haiti

Members of the campus community are gathering together to raise awareness and provide assistance to victims of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

The earthquake devastated Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, and the Haitian government estimated 150,000 fatalities as of the weekend. Since the disaster, political figures, celebrities, charities and individuals have worked to raise funds for relief efforts.

On Jan. 22, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the Board of Trustees authorized Vice Chancellor Mitch Leventhal to develop and coordinate appropriate disaster responses throughout SUNY's 64 campuses, according to the SUNY Web site.

"Each SUNY campus knows best what it can contribute to the urgent relief effort," Leventhal said. Specifically, he noted that the SUNY system can help train health practitioners and technicians. In addition, SUNY administration has begun discussing scholarship programs for Haiti with the Organization of the America States.

Efforts to raise awareness and help survivors began with a candlelight vigil on Saturday evening. The vigil was sponsored by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which has plans for related programming in the weeks to come.

Other fundraising events include "Ribbons and Candy," which will take place in the College Union on Friday and is being organized by Dante House residents, in addition to a KnightSpot event slated for Feb. 19 which will be organized by the Class of 2011 and Men of Action and Change.

Junior Phara Souffrant and Patricia Gonzalez, paraprofessional members of the Access Opportunity Program, have begun organizing Haitian Relief Week, slated for Feb. 12-20. Planned highlights of the event include a film screening, T-shirt designing and fundraisers.

Organizations that have already contacted Souffrant hoping to participate include Amnesty International, Between the Lines, Shakti, Bhangra, Women's Leadership Institute, Red Cross and various hall councils.

Souffrant is of Haitian descent and had visited Haiti just days before the earthquake. "It is weird to think that those memories are not there anymore," she said. "My grandmother's house isn't there anymore. It is good to know that something can be done."

Gonzalez said she created a Facebook group, "SUNY Geneseo Unites for Haiti," to see what other students wanted to do to help support those affected by the disaster. She said over 30 students showed up to help even before classes started.

Rosemarie Chierici, chair of the anthropology department, has been involved in the non-governmental organization Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa for 15 years. The Rochester-based organization conducts community development projects related to health education, clean water and sanitation in Haiti.

Chierici said H.O.P.E. has received numerous donations from individuals, pharmaceutical companies, eLogic and Wegmans. "Our first plane load of supplies arrived when I hung up the phone landing in Cape Haitian," Chierici said.

"The most important thing at this point is for Haitians to think about the future and think about rebuilding, and this process has already started," Chierici said.

Kay Fly, coordinator of student volunteering and service learning, said that the Center for Community has received "a lot" of monetary contributions from faculty and staff. "The students did not even wait one day back from before they contacted me about wanting to help out," Fly said.

A general meeting for organizations seeking to help is planned for Thursday at 4 p.m. The Center for Community is forwarding donations to H.O.P.E. and Partners in Health, but other organizations are being considered.

Individuals or groups who are looking for a way to donate may contact Fly, who works closely with Livingston CARES. Students can also easily donate $10 to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund by texting the word "HAITI" to 90999.