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Haiti Awareness Week brings issues to light

Adrienne Ruffner | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Organizers of Haiti Awareness Week will attempt to enlighten the Notre Dame community this week as they examine and publicize Haiti’s political problems while also celebrating its rich culture.

Throughout the week, different events will explore topics ranging from economics to dancing in order to educate the Notre Dame community about Haiti. The week, also part of Black History Month events on campus, includes student projects and discussions about Haiti. The events are sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences, the Kellogg Institute and several other organizations on campus.

“This is our second year organizing Haiti Awareness Week,” said Sarah Peterek, program manager of the Haiti Program. “We’re trying to raise awareness about health issues and life in Haiti.”

Haiti has been wrought with political violence and devastating hurricanes in recent years, and event organizers hope to expose the University community to both its problems and its triumphs.

Both Notre Dame and the Congregation of the Holy Cross have important ties to Haiti. The Haiti Program at Notre Dame funds disease and healthcare research, and Holy Cross Associates – a post-graduate service program – sends volunteers to work in the country each year. Notre Dame’s relationship with Haiti began 14 years ago when Father Tom Streit began research in the country on mosquito-born diseases.

“The real driving force behind his work is eliminating disease,” Peterek said. “With what can be done, there’s so much potential to help.”

The week began Monday with a reception in O’Shaughnessy Hall featuring architecture and industrial design student projects. In recent years, Notre Dame students have gone to Haiti for spring break seminars through the Center for Social Concerns, and the design projects were used to repair water pumps and wells in the country. However, because of violence, the trip was deemed unsafe and canceled in recent years, Peterek said.

“Part of our education program is getting students involved in learning about Haiti in their specific programs of study,” Peterek said. “So many disciplines can apply to this somehow.”

In February 2004, a violent rebellion shook the country, causing political turmoil and upheaval. One goal of Haitian Awareness Week is to dissect and understand the influences and implications of Haiti’s politically unstable history.

On Tuesday “The Agronomist,” a film about the life of Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist and civil rights activist, was shown in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Students will present their projects on Haitian history, religion and political issues at 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in the Hesburgh Center.

In addition to events on Haitian politics, there will be cultural events during the week as well. On Wednesday, students can learn Caribbean dance moves from professional instructors in the LaFortune Ballroom at 7 p.m. The week will close Friday with a Haitian/American Mass at 5 p.m. in Pangborn Hall, followed by an Africana dinner at 6 p.m. in the Coleman-Morse Center.