Over 250 University of California students, staff and faculty convened at UC San Francisco on Saturday to discuss ways to help Haiti recover from January’s devastating earthquake.
The summit aimed to coordinate relief efforts system-wide and cultivate potential projects regarding education, food production, healthcare, economic development and infrastructure in rebuilding the earthquake-shaken nation. Ambassador of Haiti Leslie Voltaire, leader of the Haiti United Nations Delegation, said he was enthusiastic about future UC student involvement in the reconstruction of the island nation.
“We want a new country, economically, socially and institutionally,” Voltaire said. “We’ve been getting help from bureaucratic governments, but they have a lot of invested interests which students don’t have yet.”
Voltaire also said the UC system provides a great base of expertise for insight on Haiti’s development projects.
“For example, we are really looking to move forward with solar energy and I think UC students can provide a great resource to do so,” Voltaire said.
Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Direct Relief International, said the University has the potential to provide unique contributions to humanitarian operations.
“Because universities offer a wide range of multi-disciplinary talents and each UC has a distinct emphasis, this wide range of talents is great to plug in to Haiti in an academic and social service circle,” Tighe said. “If UC channels these resources effectively into a system-wide structure it could be one of the most powerful relief clusters in the world.”
Keynote speaker Claudine Michel, director for the Center of Black Studies Research at UCSB and a native Haitian herself, said aside from financial contributions, the UC will also be able to provide critical counseling on Haiti’s issues.
“The UC has different skills than a government agency or [non-governmental organization],” Michel said. “Our business is to think. We can offer not only knowledge, but the ideas to merge knowledge with praxis. What’s a good education about, if it’s not to change the world?”
UCSB student Eziaku Nwokocha, a fourth-year black studies and feminist studies major, said she was excited for the UC to take steps towards greater involvement in the relief effort.
“The government already has a lot to worry about and we already have a research basis,” Nwokocha said. “UCSB needs to appreciate the foundations we have and see how we can move forward. I think even just having this conference and raising discussion is key.”