Student Group Springs Up to Lead Haiti Relief Efforts on Grounds

February 5, 2010 — Haitian relief efforts have overtaken University of Virginia faculty members' calendars and dominated students' schedules since the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook the nation on Jan. 12.

Images of Haitians seeking medical care, loved ones and food and water and rummaging through their ruined belongings catalyzed an emotional response on Grounds, from students and faculty members alike.

Hoos 4 Haiti is a student-initiated group that seeks to provide the "logistical infrastructure" for University organizations hoping to provide relief to the island, said Meredyth Gilmore, a fourth-year political and social thought and economics major in the College of Arts & Sciences and financial overseer for the organization.

Lauren Boswell, a fourth-year architecture major and campaign press coordinator for Hoos 4 Haiti, added, "The purpose of the organization is to connect students, encourage co-sponsorships, and to help make collaboration easier, so our impact in service to Haiti is significant."

The "Hoos 4 Haiti" name was coined by Ryan Bugas, a fourth-year political and social thought major. Bugas created a Facebook group to promote awareness among University students and establish an initial donation fund shortly after the earthquake hit. Since then, the organization has grown to encompass over 100 University organizations and clubs.

The organization is collecting monetary donations through its Web site or in person by dropping off cash or a check to 19 West Lawn. Donations are distributed equally to Partners in Health, the American Red Cross, UNICEF and GHESKIO, the Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, except for those donations specifically made out to one of the individual programs. Campaign coordinators chose the four organizations due to their efficiency in transporting supplies to the island.

As of Thursday evening, Hoos 4 Haiti had collected $57,500, Gilmore said. They hope to raise $100,000 by Feb. 14, and will continue to accept donations after that date.

Of the events to occur on Grounds and on the Downtown Mall during the last few weeks, several were initiated by faculty and graduate students under the Hoos 4 Haiti banner.

Wendy Hsu, a Ph.D. candidate in music, organized a campaign called the Love4Haiti Benefit, which put on a silent auction of approximately 40 donated art pieces to raise money for relief efforts. The Jan. 23 event, which drew more than 400 community members to Random Row Bookstore, raised $8,500 for the International Rescue Committee, Partners in Health, UNICEF and GHESKIO, and an additional $500 for Building Goodness, a local charity that led construction projects in Haiti before the quake. Burnley-Moran Elementary School first-graders also sold their artwork at the event for $5 per piece; local food vendors donated snacks that were sold throughout the night; and 15 performance groups along with six speakers took to the stage.

Andres Clarens, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, along with colleagues and community organizations, put on a charity concert held Jan. 23 at Fry's Spring Beach Club. The event raised money through a cover charge and silent auction, and it attracted more than 600 people. Approximately $30,000 was collected for Hoos 4 Haiti.

Along with the current Hoos 4 Haiti campaign, several other events to raise money and awareness of Haitian culture are taking place in the near future.

The Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness and the Yele Foundation at U.Va. will sponsor Haiti Awareness week from Feb. 15-18. Educational events will take place throughout the four-day period, including a teach-in where University faculty will respond to student questions concerning Haitian politics prior to the earthquake, student discussions concerning Haitian stereotypes, a film screening, and a musical performance.

Village Jam is an a capella concert scheduled for Feb. 20. The concert, featuring the University's Academical Village People, Hullabahoos and Virginia Gentlemen, will begin at 8 p.m. at a location to be announced. Tickets can be purchased online; all proceeds will go towards Haitian relief.

Other future fundraisers in the works include dance recitals and yoga sessions. For information, visit the official calendar site for Hoos 4 Haiti relief efforts.

– by Ashley Mathieu