U.Va. Student Dies in Earthquake; University Responds to Haitian Disaster

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Brevy Cannon:

January 14, 2010 — As members of the University of Virginia community mobilized to provide relief to earthquake-stricken Haiti, they learned of a personal loss: Stephanie Jean-Charles, a 2009 U.Va. graduate and master's program student at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, died in Tuesday's quake, U.Va. officials confirmed today.

Jean-Charles, 22, received her bachelor's degree in French and foreign affairs in May and became a graduate student at the Batten School. A resident of Port-au-Prince, she was home with her family when the quake struck and suffered a fatal head injury. The other members of her family are safe, according to a cousin.

Sylvia Terry, who retired last year as associate dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, remembered Jean-Charles as a stellar student and peer adviser who helped many other students.

"She and I exchanged e-mails just last week," Terry said. "I still remember the first time I met Stephanie. She introduced herself to me and gave me that warm smile of hers. She proceeded to volunteer to tutor other entering students in French."

The next spring, Jean-Charles applied to be a peer adviser for African-American students. "She worked hard and created a legacy," Terry said. One of her advisees nominated her for "Peer Adviser of the Semester," saying, "Before I even met her, she reached out to me and let me know that she was there to help me."

Harry Harding, dean of the Batten School, said in an e-mail to faculty, staff and students that Jean-Charles took up the challenges of adapting to an English-speaking culture and academic environment with "enormous energy and commitment."

"Her main aspiration was to take the knowledge and skills she learned at the Batten School to try to improve the educational system in Haiti and to keep children in school," he wrote.

A memorial will be held Jan. 21 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

Haiti Expert Fatton Gives Context to Quake's Effects

Tuesday's earthquake physically devastated the southern part of Haiti, but its psychological shock reached much further, including the Cabell Hall office of Robert Fatton Jr.

Fatton, an associate dean in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, was born and raised in Port-au-Prince and has written extensively about his homeland. Now an American citizen, he still has family and many friends in Haiti. Fortunately, they are safe, he reports.

Still, he is working the phones and e-mail, trying to comprehend the extent of the devastation. He also found the time to write a piece for a New York Times blog.

"It's just horrible. Absolutely horrible," he said. "There is no infrastructure to begin with. Whatever there was, is gone."

The government is of little use in organizing relief, and the United Nations mission was rendered ineffective by the destruction of its headquarters in Port-au-Prince and the death of many of its personnel. The relief effort is being coordinated outside the country, he said.

Geologically, the quake appeared to be a worst-case scenario. It was very shallow, and centered just below Haiti's southern population center, Fatton said. Though Haiti sits atop a geological fault, there had not been a major quake in 250 years, he noted.

"We were warned it could come, but no one knew when it would come or how bad it would be," he said, predicting that the death toll would rise to six figures out of a population of 9.7 million. (Late Thursday, news reports said the Red Cross estimated the loss of life at between 45,000 and 50,000.)

Getting food, water and medical supplies where they are needed is complicated, Fatton said. Though the airport in Port-au-Prince remains open, it is not very large. The port has been badly damaged; the cranes that offload cargo are under water. It may be possible, he said, to bring goods overland from the Dominican Republic, but the roads must be cleared, and that would require heavy equipment that is not in great supply.

If relief is delayed, "That could get very ugly," Fatton said. "The people could get desperate."

In the long run, the tragedy may offer some chance to advance Haiti, he said. Even before the quake hit, there was talk of a "Marshall Plan" to stabilize Haitian society, and this week's events will bring a new international focus to the impoverished nation's plight.

"It would require a significant amount of money," he said. "Everything has to be rebuilt, or built."

Any improvement, though, would also require a degree of political stability that is rarely found in Haiti's past, he said. But perhaps the people could unite in the face of a common threat.

"That's what I hope," he said, "that this is an opportunity, and not just one catastrophe piling on another."

How the U.Va. Community Is Helping

U.Va. and state employees wishing to provide financial support to Haitian earthquake relief efforts can do so by personal check.

Make checks out to "International Disaster Relief - Haiti." The Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign Volunteer Coordinator for your area will collect the checks just as they did during the 2009 CVC. The CVC office in Richmond will forward 100 percent of these donations directly to the American Red Cross for immediate use by the International Disaster Services Team.

Also, in response to the catastrophe, the U.Va. Bookstore on Grounds, the Courts & Commerce store on North Grounds and the T.J.'s Locker at the Aquatic & Fitness Center have placed collection boxes for donations, which also will be forwarded to the Red Cross.

You can also donate online directly to the Red Cross here.

The U.Va. Health System is collecting much-needed items that will be forwarded to Haiti through Gleaning for the World. The Center for Global Health has compiled a list of needed supplies, as well as relief organizations working in Haiti.

— By Marian Anderfuren and Dan Heuchert