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Haiti Program faculty, staff safe after earthquake

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The University’s first priority after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti last Tuesday was safely evacuating faculty and staff, associate provost Dennis Jacobs said. Now that all faculty members have returned, the administration is determining the next steps for the Notre Dame Haiti program.
“Attention now is focused on relief efforts and we’ll then focus more on rebuilding efforts,” he said.
Located in Léogâne, the Notre Dame Haiti program focuses on research to eliminate lymphatic filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis, a disease that afflicts more than 26 percent of the Haitian population.
Although Léogâne was one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake, the program’s facilities are still standing, Sarah Miller, assistant program manager, said.
“The engineering department at Notre Dame gave recommendations about building the buildings to earthquake status, so we know that our facilities are basically being used as a base of operations for people reaching out to help the people in community,” Miller said.
Miller said faculty members are currently discussing the best way to proceed with the program in light of the devastation.
“The first step is to look at what do we need to do to help the people in Léogâne and Haiti in general,” she said, “We want to be able to help get relief and aid to people, and after that it will be about how to rebuild our program.”
In the aftermath of the earthquake, Miller said she has hope for the nation.
“I think the country of Haiti was really making some wonderful improvements and I want people to know we see positive things of this coming out of this in the way Haitians are stepping up to help,” she said.
Jacobs said the University has a unique ability to aid the relief effort.
“We are privileged in a way to have a relationship with Haiti through the Haiti program and with the Congregation of Holy Cross’s presence in Haiti,” he said. “Through those relationships and that network, we may have an ability to help and service better than if we had no relationships in that country. We also have people here on campus with great familiarity with Haiti and opportunities and limitations of working in Haiti.”
The University launched the site haitidisaster.nd.edu shortly after the earthquake. The Web site details information about donating to the Notre Dame Haiti Program and other relief services helping in the country.
Donations will be collected at Basilica Masses over the next two weeks, and the University held a Mass Monday to pray for the victims.
“This disaster has also directly impacted the Notre Dame community. Alumni, students, faculty and staff with family and friends in Haiti are seeking information about colleagues and loved ones,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in a message online. “There has been an outpouring of concern and interest because these individual relationships and other institutional initiatives have enhanced the University’s connection with Haiti over the years.”
Student government and student clubs have also rallied to collect money for the relief effort. Student body president Grant Schmidt said that more than $4,800 has been raised by Tuesday night.
Student government will continue to collect donations through Friday, and they are still communicating about how best to donate the money.
American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, fundraising efforts of Friends of the Orphans, Congregation of Holy Cross and the Notre Dame Haiti Program will each receive at least 10 percent of the funds.
Friends of the Orphans, an on-campus group that supports nine orphanages in Latin America and the Caribbean, is holding a benefit concert next Wednesday to raise money as well.
“For this interest in supporting the relief effort, what we want to do is collect money and give it to a set of agencies that could put it to good use right away,” Jacobs, who helped advise Schmidt on establishing a plan to help, said. “I think the University naturally wants to reach out and help in any case when people are hurting and a natural disaster such as this is a this causes this amount of devastation.”