Helping Haitians in Miami

Professor Guerda Nicolas mediated the rounbdtable event in which participants exchanged ideas about ways to help Haiti held at the Wesely Gallery last Wednesday, Feb. 10. Brittney Bomnin // Photo Editor

The devastation Haiti faces in the aftermath of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake is fresh in the minds of many, but one University of Miami professor is training volunteers to directly benefit the Haitian community in Miami.
Doctor Guerda Nicholas, chair of education and psychological studies within the School of Education, is leading a group of volunteers who are learning to assess if the earthquake has caused psychological trauma among the Haitian community.
Volunteers who know Creole were trained to identify traumatized patients and connect them with the best possible health care. They learned how to distinguish the different systems of stress.
“This is true community work,” Nicholas said. “We’re not going to wait for people to come to us.”
The volunteers will go to supermarkets, salons and community centers with computerized tablets. They will have a questionnaire on a variety of difficulties the participant faced during the earthquake. Stress levels are qualified by terms like “not really” and “extremely.” For example, if a patient faced the difficulty, “I was jumpy and easily startled” during the earthquake, then the patient may answer that their level of distress was “quite a bit.”
When the questionnaire research is compiled, if even a fraction of the community falls under a pattern of depression or stress, Nicholas and her team will meet with community leaders and will try to create a plan to work on the issue.
“Our goal is not to take care of the majority,” said Billie Schwartz, a UM graduate student and research assistant for Nicholas. “Our goal is to provide an appropriate level of care.”
Chimene Mathurin, secretary of the UM Haitian Student Organization, believes the research could be beneficial to providing warnings if they find any connections to other disorders.
Though Nicholas has been a part of the UM community for only two years, she has quickly made many contacts with community members in areas like Overtown and Little Havana.
She comes to them not as an expert, but as someone who wants to learn.
Once she understands the community’s circumstances, Nicholas designs a sustainable program, grounded in evidence, which addresses what a community needs and obtains the funding for it.
The screening of Haitian communities will begin next month. Nicholas is not certain how long it will last.
She understands what a difficult time this is for many because she lost five family members in the earthquake.
“Every time I hear the number of Haitians dying, it hurts me because it’s my family, my people,” she said.

Andrea Concepcion may be contacted at

February 14, 2010


Andrea Concepcion

Contributing News Writer

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