Adapted from a story by Jillian Scharr’12 that appeared in the Miscellany News, January 28, 2010
HELP FOR HAITI: It was their work with the student organization Pro-Health that brought four Vassar students to Haiti on January 6, 2010. They planned to perform basic health screenings, give physicals, and hand out clothing and other supplies in the villages of Lespinasse and Timachen. But their plans changed drastically just six days after their arrival when the country suffered a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that took the lives of some 200,000 people and affected countless others.
Jared Augenstein ’10, Nicole Krenitsky ’11, Kristyn Abreu ’11 and David Bridgman-Packer ’12 were in Lespinasse, a mountain town six miles east of Port-au-Prince, when the earthquake occurred. “It was like we were inside a box, and someone was just shaking the box,” Augenstein said.
“We think it lasted about 15 seconds,” estimated Bridgman-Packer. “It took us a little while to realize what was going on.” The house they were in was undamaged, and the surrounding area was “not as bad,” said Krenitsky, “but there was a house [whose] roof was at ground level; it had just pancaked right down…luckily [the owner] got out in time.”
That night, the group camped outside with the rest of the village. The next day, they put together an ad hoc medical team consisting of the four students, their hosts Jeanette and Christopher Felix, and others. As they walked down the hill towards Port-au-Prince, they stopped to provide treatment for injured refugees making their way out of the city.
The four students left Haiti a few days later, as the situation was becoming increasingly unsafe, but Pro-Health is continuing to raise money for Haiti and for the organizations with which they have established a connection.
A second Vassar organization, also involved with Haiti before the earthquake, was quick to organize relief efforts. The Vassar Haiti Project, a partnership with Haitian artists that supports a primary school in the town of Chermaitre, was founded in 2001. In addition to its commitment to the school, the Haiti Project also raises money through art sales and auctions to help with efforts to improve reforestation, education, access to clean water, and health care in the village. On campus, the organization began to mobilize soon after news of the earthquake reached the United States.
Within days, the Haiti Project started a drive to collect supplies such as food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, and first aid kits. The response was “overwhelming,” says Anh Ngo ’10, chair of the organization’s Art and Crafts Committee. In addition to hosting several art sales and sending the proceeds to Haiti, the organization has also sponsored events on campus, including a panel discussion and a candlelight vigil.
Located in the mountains of rural northwest Haiti, the town of Chermaitre was left relatively unharmed by the earthquake. Yet 3,000 displaced people have moved into the area surrounding the town. “The important thing is that while we have to send donations into Port-au-Prince, we can’t neglect our village,” said Ngo. “It’s crazy. You get a hundred emails a day from people in the community so willing to help.”