Student groups unite to plan Haiti relief

Powerful stories and images of the death, destruction and despair emerging from Haiti after the small Caribbean country was rocked by a massive earthquake last Tuesday have united the GW community in efforts to help.

Although University President Steven Knapp reported “no George Washington students or employees were in Haiti” during the earthquake, more than 100 students, student organization leaders and some GW administrators joined forces in crafting a unified approach to fundraising efforts Sunday night at a standing-room-only meeting in the Marvin Center Amphitheatre.

“I believe there was hope since the first day after the incident,” said Emma Thelusme, president of the Caribbean Student Association, the student group that organized Sunday’s event. “Because I wasn’t reaching out to anybody yet, and all of the sudden there was an influx of ‘what can we do, what can we do,’ and I was like, ‘Why send them all to their own paths, why not centralize all efforts?’ “

During the meeting, students negotiated a plan with University administrators to allow students to donate a portion of their Colonial Cash to relief efforts in Haiti. Although a date has yet to be decided upon, the University agreed to help create a program so that whenever students swipe their GWorld at Marvin Center food venues, they will then be prompted to make donations to either the American Red Cross or Project MediShare – a GW organization offering medical relief to Haitians injured in the devastating earthquake.

Additional fundraising opportunities decided upon at the meeting include a benefit party Feb. 3 in the Marvin Center and a potential “Dining for Haiti” event, in which local dining establishments would donate part of their proceeds to the cause.

Some members of the GW community said they were directly affected by the tragedy in Haiti. Freshman Veronique Cadet said several of her family members live in Haiti.

“My grandparents’ house was partially destroyed,” Cadet said. “And they know some people who died.”

Cadet said she would like to go to Haiti to assist in the relief effort, but did not know how that would work.

Senior Adolf Alzuphar, a native of Haiti, is collecting canned goods and funds to send to the relief effort. Alzuphar said he lost his house in the earthquake, and that although he cannot go back to his country to help with relief efforts, he said collecting food and clothing is the best he can do.

“It’s horrible,” Alzuphar said. “Right now this is a test of our character. What do you do in a situation like this? The best that I can do is raise money and collect clothes and food.”

Several physicians from the University’s Medical Center were on their way to Haiti to assist in emergency operations, Knapp said in an e-mail to the University last week.

Joseph Barbera, an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering, said in an e-mail to his mental and public health emergency class Thursday that he was going to Haiti to assist in search and rescue operations.

“I am always conflicted in these deployments, since I don’t like missing work commitments,” said Barbera, who is also co-director of the GW Institute for Crisis Disaster and Risk Management. “I hope you understand, however, since the human need in this situation is great and the expertise provides significant benefit.”

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said members of the GW community were responding to the disaster in several ways.

“Many across the GW community are asking how they can help,” Sherrard said in an e-mail. “They have been making monetary donations to organizations on their own. Several GW medical personnel are lending their services in Haiti and students and student organizations are mobilizing to organize relief efforts,” Sherrard said.

Bernard Demczuk, vice president for D.C. government relations, expressed the desire to work with student groups to create a relief program of some permanency.

“I know that in a week or two or three we will all go back to our various struggles that we all have and we will forget that the rebuilding will take years and years,” Demczuk said. “My only contribution is if we can help you create something permanent that will continue to last years down the road.”


How to Get Involved

University-wide candlelight vigil
Tuesday, Jan. 19, 5 p.m., University Yard

Letter writing and a sample of Haitian culture
Wednesday, Jan. 20, 7 – 9 p.m., Multicultural Student Services Center

Night at Sesto Senso
Thursday, Jan. 21, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., Sesto Senso, 1214 18th St. NW

$10 to enter after 10 p.m. 20 percent of proceeds go to Haiti relief efforts.

Fundraiser party
Friday, Jan. 22, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., Marvin Center Third Floor
$5 to enter. All proceeds go to Haiti relief efforts.

Swipe your GWorld for Haiti
Date TBD, Marvin Center

Event organizers: gwhands4haiti@gmail.com

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