UM Holds Candlelight Vigil and Community Forum on Haiti

Events draw attention to the plight of Haiti's quake victims and address strategies for recovery.

Coral Gables (January 20, 2010) — A community forum and candlelight vigil on the University of Miami campus drew attention to the plight of Haiti’s quake victims and addressed strategies for the country's recovery efforts.

After the quake had subsided, Arielle Duperval and her two University of Miami classmates cautiously stepped out of the car in which they were passengers and began to walk the streets of Haiti’s capital city, witnessing horrific scenes of death and destruction.

“Take everything you’ve ever seen on CNN and multiply it by infinity,” said the 19-year-old Duperval, describing what she saw after last Tuesday’s devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince.

But amid the chaos, she also saw scenes of courage: men and women running fearlessly into buildings on the verge of collapse to rescue children trapped beneath the rubble.

Students observe a moment of silence during the candlelight vigil that drew hundreds.
Students observe a moment of silence during the candlelight vigil that drew hundreds.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Duperval was one of several speakers who addressed an audience of hundreds of students, faculty, and staff members who gathered on the UM campus Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil honoring Haiti’s quake victim. She and her two classmates, Kristina Rosales and Austin Webbert, were in Haiti as part of Assistant Professor Louis Herns Marcelin’s initiative to establish community youth centers in the country when the earthquake hit.

All three, as well as several other UM students who were in the country on intersession courses, made it back safely to the U.S.

With the Haitian national flag displayed on the stage at the vigil and a small choir performing inspirational music, some people in the crowd shed tears. Others embraced or held hands. All were deeply saddened by the recent events.

At Wednesday's candlelight vigil, President Shalala reiterated UM's commitment to helping Haiti recover.At Wednesday's candlelight vigil, President Shalala reiterated UM's commitment to help Haiti recover.

“Tonight we remember and pray for the Haitian people, for their families and friends here in the United States, and for all the caregivers who are trying desperately to get help on the ground to the people in Haiti,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala, calling the tragedy “unprecedented.” UM, Shalala said, has made a commitment to help the impoverished nation, noting that leaders from the Haitian Student Organization are working closely with the Butler Center for Service and Leadership to initiate donation drives and mobilize community support. Many other student organizations are organizing aid drives, such as concerts and auctions, the specific details of which will be announced in the coming days.

The University also hopes to donate phone cards that will help Haitians in the quake zone communicate with loved ones in the U.S. So far, the institution has raised more than $2 million for Haiti quake relief—the largest amount raised by any university for Haiti relief, Shalala said.

Shalala saluted the efforts of Miller School of Medicine physicians Arthur Fournier and Barth Green, who were among the first doctors on the ground in Haiti. The two are co-founders of Project Medishare, a Miami-based nonprofit that has worked to improve health care in the nation since 1995.

Arielle Duperval talks about her experience in Haiti when the quake hit, as fellow student Austin Webbert listens.
Arielle Duperval talks about her experience in Haiti when the quake hit, as fellow student Austin Webbert listens.

"As a student of Haitian descent, it warms my heart to see the amount of support the University community, City of Coral Gables, and the world have been offering to the victims of this tragedy," said Student Government President Lionel Moise.

Donations will ultimately play the largest role in helping Haiti recover, agreed many of the people who assembled at the community forum, “Coming Together as a People of Haiti,” held in the UM Fieldhouse before the vigil.

Hosted by UM’s Center for Latin American Studies, the forum gave the audience of mostly faculty, staff, and students the chance to “share their concerns, pains, sadness, hopes, and ideas in the face of this tragedy,” said CLAS director Stephen Stein.

“I haven’t stopped crying since last week,” said Haitian-born MarieGuerda Nicolas, an associate professor at UM’s School of Education who has several relatives still living in the Caribbean nation. Four of her cousins died in the quake.

Stein said the center is organizing a series of upcoming symposia on Haiti, including a roundtable discussion that could lead to initiatives on the reconstruction of the country.

But before the rebuilding process begins, the treatment and care of the injured continues, with the Miller School taking a “rapid responder role in providing medical care for the people in Haiti,” said Steven Falcone, executive clinical dean for the Miller School’s regional campus at Florida Atlantic University and chief medical officer for the school’s medical relief efforts in Haiti.

With the Haitian flag behind him, physician Steven Falcone gives details on the Miller School's medical relief efforts in Haiti.
With the Haitian flag behind him, faculty physician Steven Falcone gives details on the Miller School's medical relief efforts in Haiti.

Falcone said that since the quake struck the school has been organizing three to five flights daily in and out of Haiti, supplying physicians, nurses, surgeons, and operating room technicians who work out of an airport-based urgent care center that has treated and triaged hundreds of quake survivors.

“They are not great conditions, but we’re going to improve them shortly,” he said, noting a 300-bed tent hospital that is now up and running, and equipped with two operating rooms, dialysis and X-ray machines, and telemedicine capabilities.

He said achieving consistent and reliable communication remains a challenge, and that while many pharmaceutical companies have given drugs, the medications that are needed most are sometimes not the ones that are being donated.

“This effort will take weeks and months, and many hands will be needed,” Falcone said. “This has been an unfortunate disaster. But it’s shown us how we can pull together as an institution and as a community to provide important resources for the survival of the Haitian people.”

Her voice shaking and her eyes nearly coming to tears, Duperval issued a challenge to the audience at the forum: “We all need to work together,” she said. “Haiti’s been through so much and will go through so much more before it can realize it dreams.”

For more on the University's Haitian relief efforts, visit the 'Canes Helping Haiti Web site.


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A community forum and candlelight vigil on the University of Miami campus drew attention to the plight of Haiti’s quake victims and addressed strategies for the country's recovery on January 20.

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