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The University of California Haiti Initiative recently embarked on a 10-day fact-finding trip to Haiti.
Twenty members from the group, consisting of students, employees and researchers from across the UC system, journeyed abroad on Aug. 13. Dedicated to rebuilding the war-torn nation, the volunteers donated funds for relief efforts and contributed to reconstruction projects, meeting with government officials, community leaders, university faculty and members of grassroots organizations in the process.
According to UCSB black studies professor Claudine Michel, UCHI’s Executive Co-Director, the initiative intends to utilize the university’s ample resources, whether financial or human, to aid one particular community.
“The assessment trip this past August was most gratifying,” Michel said in an e-mail. “We wanted to assess the local needs and make a determination about a site for the UC project location. The site will be finalized at our board at UCLA on Oct. 17. For some it was their first time in Haiti; for all it was empowering and mind-opening.”
The group traveled to eight cities during the trip, including Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, Mirebalais, Jacmel, Hinche and Léogane, which was most devastated by the disaster.
UCSB graduate student Nicolas Pascal, UCHI co-founder and executive co-director, said the group’s goal was to assess the community’s climate to recognize exactly how the UCHI could service the nation.
“The UCHI board did a fantastic job of getting a sense of reality,” Pascal said. “It was a difficult reality to get a sense of.”
The group met with various local partners to determine how to best utilize the money that was raised by the organization over the last four months. Aside from UCSB, other schools in attendance included UC Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
Additionally, UC Berkeley student Tu Tran, UCHI co-founder and healthcare sector director, said UCHI is currently considering investing in model village projects, which involve moving Haitian citizens to tent cities or new developments. However, Tran said the group will not make a decision until the end of November or December — after the nation’s congressional elections.
“It takes a lot of time,” Tran said. “We have to be considerate of all the options, especially for an institution as large as the UC. … We don’t want to sign contracts with someone who won’t be in power for the next five years.”
As the host institution for the initiative, UCSB has been especially active in relief efforts. In addition to recently sending five delegates on the assessment trip, student groups on campus raised large sums of money immediately after the natural disaster.
Pascal said he was astounded by the generous financial contributions that the student body made during fundraising events — the UCSB Human Rights Council and Associated Students collectively raised $50,000 in a matter of weeks.
“I got a sense that there was an actual connection on a global contribution,” Pascal said. “People realized how close we are to Haiti and how close Haiti is to us.”
The university is also a hotspot for Haitian cultural studies. The Center for Black Studies Research, which houses the UCHI, publishes the Journal of Haitian Studies and features KOSANBA — a scholarly association for the study of the Haitian religion of Vodou.