Even before the cataclysmic natural disaster that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, the island nation was still in need. Life there was always difficult, prior to the earthquake the large poverty-stricken population struggled.
Hoping to improve life in Cite Soleil, a slum in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, seniors Kristina Rosales and Austin Webbert created a service program two years ago to directly improve the lives of locals.
However, their plans changed when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince.
“We realized that there was an unfair situation with them,” said Webbert, a Latin American Studies major from Maine. “They didn’t have access to a lot of things like we did.”
“[Haiti] is so close, maybe an hour, hour and a half by plane,” he said. “All you have to do is go down there and see the conditions that people are living in. It’s fundamentally just not right. You’d be a appalled.”
Soley Ini, a University of Miami program sponsored by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED), seeks to assist the youth of Cite Soleil by providing educational and cultural opportunities, such as learning a new language or knowing how to use a computer.
“The purpose is to establish community centers in Cite Soleil that are primarily for college aged youth who, although they are getting some sort of education somewhere else, don’t have access to educational opportunities,” said Rosales, an international studies and political science major from Washington D.C. “So the centers are specifically for them to, for example, have access to be able to better their skills to get a job.”
Recently, the community centers have allowed Haitians to perform and record rap music because of its popularity in the local area.
A third Soley Ini group leader, Arielle Duperval, was also in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.
Even before the earthquake, education was a scarce necessity.
“The common conception is that it’s a corrupt government because it’s very greedy. It’s always for themselves and never for the people,” Rosales said. “When it translates to education, you can see that there are very few public resources for young people to go to the university and even high school.”
Webbert agrees, and believes that the earthquake has exponentially increased the demand of their work in Cite Soleil. The earthquake, it seems, has decimated almost an entire generation of Haitians.
“All the young leaders that would be inheriting leadership roles in the country, a huge portion of them were wiped out,” he said. “So now there’s a huge vacuum and we need to get in there to train people.”
According to Rosales, the earthquake has presented different challenges to the service they provide in Port-au-Prince.
“Our efforts are a lot more spread out. We do have the necessity and we’re obligated now to try and get more involved,” she said. “Right now we’re trying to regroup with everyone we worked with in Cite Soleil because we still haven’t heard from everyone.”
According to Rosales, the international community in the past has provided aid to Haiti without first finding what was really in need.
“Always the international community comes and imposes things without asking the Haitian society or people what they want,” she said. “That’s one of the big things of our project: we came to the youth, and we want to ask them how they think we should help.”
“We live in a globalized world. Whatever happens there effects us here,” Webbert said. “Everything is linked together. You can’t just focus on what’s going on here in our backyards because our backyard is connected to what’s happening in Africa and Europe and all over the world.”
HOW UM HAS HELPED
-The UM community has already raised $3.76 million for Haiti.
-Since Jan. 13, over 100 UM doctors and health personnel have traveled to Haiti.
-As of last Friday, more than 700 volunteers have signed up through UM’s relief efforts.
-The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute donated 1,500 pairs of eyeglasses, thanks to Dr. Tom Shane.
Ramon Galiana may be contacted at email@example.com.