Campus responds to disaster in Haiti

Student organizations create "Helping Haiti" campaign

Courtney Wittekind Jan 18, 2010

After the news of the Haitian earthquake broke last Thursday evening, a call to action sounded across the Carnegie Mellon campus. Initiated by student government, this call took a non-traditional form — an e-mail was sent to all student organizations and an emergency meeting was scheduled for the same evening. “Student government had been working on the textbook flea market, but then Haiti happened, so we had to get moving,” said Student Body President Rotimi Abimbola. “I really thought it was important that it be a united effort — everyone needed to be involved.” Despite the short notice, over 20 student organizations were represented at that evening’s meeting, and Carnegie Mellon’s “Helping Haiti” campaign was quickly created and put into action.

Events and fundraisers resulting from the collaboration among these organizations began this week. “We decided that the most immediate need is funds, so we began the Dollar Campaign,” Abimbola said. The Dollar Campaign was launched with the intention of collecting at least one dollar from every student, staff, and faculty member at the university. If successful, this would mean a collection of more than $16,000. The Dollar Campaign was previously employed after Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in $4000 collected in three days. Funds raised from the Dollar Campaign will go to four different nonprofit organizations: Hospital Albert Schweitzer, Doctors Without Borders, Brother’s Brother Foundation, and Yele Haiti.

Tuesday became the “Wear Red for Haiti” day, during which members of the campus community were asked to wear red in support of Haiti. Faculty members were also encouraged to hold a five-minute classroom teach-in about the people, history, and culture of Haiti. On Tuesday, an afternoon prayer service was held in the University Center chapel.

Thursday night offered students and staff the opportunity to join a candlelight vigil at the Fence. The Originals, a student vocal group, began the meeting in song. Following the performance, students were invited to share their own stories and feelings concerning the disaster. “I didn’t know much about Haiti,” first-year business administration major Rekha Toshok said, “but I received an e-mail from my RA about the vigil. I think it’s really important to come to things like this. It’s important to take time out and show respect.” The event was sponsored by Amnesty International, Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth (FORGE), and OM, a spiritual organization for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs — a detail which spoke to the unity and collaboration of student organizations. “For the first time, organizations are connected. Helping Haiti is bringing us together and uniting us for a cause,” said Alex Blair, president of FORGE.

“I think it’s really cool how involved the whole campus is. It’s hard to stay immersed in the world when you’re at school,” first-year Gabbi Rueda said. “This sort of thing takes you out of yourself and helps you realize what’s important. It gives you a better perspective of the world.”

Student government continues to coordinate with other student organizations to expand their efforts. “We aren’t trying to take away [the Hatians’] dignity. We don’t need to belittle them. But we are people who share the same world. It is our responsibility to act for them,” Abimbola said.

Upcoming events included in the “Helping Haiti” campaign will be posted on the Carnegie Mellon news blog site or on the Helping Haiti Facebook group. All students are encouraged to get involved by donating hygiene items to the current supply drive, or by contributing to the Dollar Campaign.