UM students marked the four-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake with a vigil, while some students spent winter break on the island nation.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 14, 2014) —
University of Miami students held a vigil Monday evening marking the four-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck the heart of the island nation of Haiti on January 12, 2010.
Sponsored by UM’s Haitian student organization, Planet Kreyol, the event began with remarks from Plant Kreyol president Djevelyne Phileus and the Haitian national anthem.
UM President Donna E. Shalala then recounted the incredible call to action heeded by the UM community. Later, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime and earthquake survivor Jacquelin Pierre shared their stories of what it was like to live through one of the most perilous times in their country’s history.
In the audience of 50 students and community members was a group from UCatholic Campus Ministry who spent the first week of their winter break serving at a Missionaries of Charity compound in Port-au-Prince.
The group, led by Michelle Ducker, Campus Minister at St. Augustine Catholic Church and Student Center, included students from University of Miami, Florida International University, and St. Augustine Church.
The team of 12 arrived in Port-au-Prince on December 17, 2013, and immediately set to work in the Missionaries of Charity hospital for poor and abandoned children. For six hours each day, the volunteers tended to the personal needs of Haitian infants and toddlers, feeding them, changing diapers, and playing games that transcended the language barrier.
“It was hard trying not to quantify my efforts,” said Aidan Breen, a missionary from St. Paul’s Outreach serving at St. Augustine. “We were doing the kind of work that can’t be physically measured.”
The majority of children in the hospital suffered from severe malnutrition. Many have parents who are still alive, but can’t afford proper medical attention. When the children arrive, many are so swollen from vitamin deficiencies that their eyes are closed shut.
“To see the kids suffering in the hospital was really hard,” said UM sophomore Chelsea Dahline. “But it is amazing to see how quickly they can recover with the right food and care.”
After just four days in the hospital, many of the children showed vast improvement.
“First they get really skinny with just the swollen belly,” said UM sophomore Yazmine de la Cruz. “But then they slowly start looking normal, and you can see the difference you made.”
On other days during the weeklong trip, the heavy metal doors of the compound were opened, and the student volunteers helped distribute donated food and medical supplies to more than 600 residents of Port-au-Prince.
“I was at the beginning of the line,” said UM senior Julian Urrego. “I made an effort to greet everyone with a smile and eye contact as well as a ‘bonjou.’”
After a week of rationing the drinking water purchased from a grocery store near the compound, and living off the non-perishable food packed in two suitcases from Miami, the perspectives of the volunteers had changed.
“The trip definitely made me appreciate what I have more,” said FIU junior Alex Carpio. “It put things in perspective, and now all I think about is when I can go back again.”
Renee Reneau is a sophomore at the University of Miami and attended the volunteer effort in Haiti over winter break.
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