UW Today

January 12, 2011

One year after earthquake, students still working for Haiti

Chelsea Graeff, left, and Holly Wolfe helped to organize a tent city at UW Tacoma this week to build awareness of conditions in Haiti. | Photo by Jill Carnell Danseco

Chelsea Graeff, left, and Holly Wolfe helped to organize a tent city at UW Tacoma this week to build awareness of conditions in Haiti. | Photo by Jill Carnell Danseco

January 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. When it occurred, people all over the world, including many Americans, responded generously with donations of cash, medical aid and equipment.

But now its 2011, and the worlds attention has waned.

Conditions in Haiti are no better — they are, in fact, worse — says UW Tacoma senior Chelsea Graeff, one of the organizers of several events planned to call attention back to unstable conditions on the island nation. She cited poor living conditions, a cholera epidemic, slow progress in rebuilding and lack of jobs facing the people of Haiti today.

“The situation will never get better without more help,” said Graef, who is working on a double major in American studies and in politics, philosophy and economics. “More and more people are dying. Its spiraling into a worse situation.”

Graeff is president of the HOPE Network, a student organization dedicated to human rights. In the middle of campus on Jan. 12, the campus the group constructed a simulation of a typical improvised Haitian tent city, including tarps for roofs, rudimentary cooking conditions and buckets for toilets.

The group included a presentation of an aid station to show what cash donations of different amounts would buy, such as food for a family. Donations were collected for Mercy Corps, which provides food, water, sanitation and jobs to survivors in Haiti.

Last year UW Tacoma students, faculty and staff raised $4,492 for earthquake victims with the Huskies 4 Haiti campaign, selling t-shirts and caps donated by local businesses Classic Impressions, the Compleat Company and Northwest Embroidery. Efforts continue toward the goal of raising $5,000 to provide care packages and meals through the Red Cross and AIMER Haiti.

Grad student Holly Wolfe spent a month in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 2009 studying environmental justice.

“Having seen the difficult conditions there prior to the earthquake, it’s hard to even fathom what Haitians are going through now,” she said. “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. With the earthquake, and now the cholera epidemic, it’s hard to imagine things could get any worse.”

Wolfe and her roommate, Rachel Prusynski, are involved in raising awareness and funds for Haiti. The two will share their stories in a presentation on campus later this month.

Prusynski was in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, doing volunteer work for Friends of the Orphans with her good friend Molly Hightower. The building they were in collapsed, killing Hightower. Prusynski survived with minor injuries. Last summer Prusynski, a grad student at the University of Puget Sound, and Wolfe started the Heal Help Hope Initiative. They organize Haiti awareness and fundraising events and have already raised more than $15,000. Prusynski is in Haiti now to mark the anniversary of the devastating earthquake. You can read more on her blog, helloagainhaiti.blogspot.com.

Wolfe says she stays involved in the project because she can. “It’s the least I can do. With privilege comes responsibility,” she said. “Haiti reminds me every day how much I have and challenges me to do something with it.”

Despite everything that is not going well, Wolfe said, there is still hope for Haiti. “Organizations like Mercy Corps are helping to improve the lives of Haitians every day through sports therapy for kids, temporary jobs for adults and emergency-preparedness events for entire communities.

“As Americans, the more we keep Haiti in our consciousness, stay aware of the issues and support organizations doing the hard work of relief and rebuilding, the more we are telling Haitians we care, and we won’t forget.”

On Jan. 25, Wolfe and Prusynski will speak about the effect of the 2010 earthquake on human rights in Haiti and the Heal Help Hope Initiative they started together. The event, which is at 6:30 p.m. in 324 Cherry Parkes on the UWT campus, is co-sponsored by Associate Professor Janet Primomo as part of her Health and Human Rights class and the HOPE Network. For more information, contact Janet Primomo at jprimomo@uw.edu or 253-692-4475.