University-wide Relief Efforts for Haiti Continue

By Barbara Melendez



TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 29, 2010) – All throughout the University of South Florida, individuals were moved to take action to help the people of Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake hit Jan. 12. From USF student organizations to the USF Red Cross Club, from a sympathetic professor, to a university-wide long-range effort and an energetic graduate student – their efforts are making a difference as the shock waves from this devastating event continue to reverberate around the world. 


Working While Grieving

Two USF student organizations have Haitian members who were organizing ways to help even as they were trying to reach relatives and friends and comfort each other. 


The Caribbean Cultural Exchange, in conjunction with its new offshoot, Caribbean Students Incorporated, organized an event featuring USF Professor Melvin James and a panel made up of a number of USF alumni and current students to discuss, “Why, Haiti?: Past, Present and the Way Forward.” At this event students and alumni of Haitian descent expressed strong feelings of grief, pride in their culture, and consternation at the world’s ignorance of Haitian history, as well as misgivings and hope for the future. 


Special guest, Melvin James, a professor in the Department of Africana Studies, and author of a new book titled God Bless America, reviewed Haiti’s history from the colonial period in the 1600s to the revolutionary period in the 1700s, independence in the 1800s and outside interventions and internal strife thereafter. He pointed out that during the colonial period, “Haiti was the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ and richer than the British colonies to the north. But it started out as a debtor nation after paying the people they defeated for their independence – the equivalent of two billion in today’s dollar. Haiti is a country that has been virtually strangled from the start and interfered with ever since.” A videotape of the proceedings is being edited and will be available soon from Caribbean Students Incorporated. Contact O. Kofi Dalrymple at


Members of Club Creole, a USF student group organized to dispel the negative stereotypes and myths about Haiti and its people and to promote Haitian culture at USF and in Tampa Bay, held a candlelight vigil and helped collect supplies to send to Haiti. Between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29, several members of the club went to Tampa International Airport to help translate for injured people evacuated from Haiti and their family members.  
Tomorrow Club Creole presents its third annual production, “Haiti is Calling: A Family's Pain-Appel Ayiti, On Doule nan Fanmi,” in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater at 7 p.m. During the event, the organization will collect monetary donations at the door with all proceeds going to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation. And on Sunday, Jan. 31, members of Club Creole are supporting the Haitian Coalition Drive for Haiti at the University Area Community Center by helping to sort through and pack donated items to send to Haiti. They have made themselves available to share information on relief efforts, contact Club Creole's Community Service Chair Beverly Joseph at or Ginelle Saint Jean at (954) 701-5108. 


The Power of One

Africana Studies graduate student Robin Baldwin didn’t waste any time taking the initiative to do all that she could think of to help the people of Haiti. Though not Haitian, Haiti has become an important part of her life. She has Haitian friends, taught school in a largely Haitian community in Newark, NJ, is now studying educational disparities in Tampa’s Haitian community and spent part of last summer in Haiti. As soon as she found out what had happened, she and a friend, USF alumna Sharon Pierre, brought a few more friends together to work on finding out what resources were available to help. 


“My first question was, ‘What are we going to do?’ and then, ‘What do we have? What do we need?’” Baldwin said. “Even though I was very upset, the fact that I’m not Haitian probably helped because I could go into action quickly without the intense level of worry and grief most of them were going through.”


Before long, building on her social network alone, a few friends mushroomed to dozens of people, including representatives from local organizations. All were anxious to be part of a meeting that ultimately convened at the Marshall Student Center on Friday, Jan. 22. The meeting turned into the perfect opportunity for people to get to know each other, to network, share information and partner with compatible efforts. By making herself available to serve as the point person, Baldwin clearly filled a need.


“People in the community started to reach out to me, and what started out as four or five people quickly blew up to over 70,” she said. “It was amazing how fast everyone came together. We talked about all the concerns, driving conditions, the need to clear the roads, the distribution of goods, the need for proper immunizations, the heat, the smell of decaying corpses, the need for counseling after this terrible trauma.”  


The result is a resource list of local organizations and what they’re doing to help and a small clearinghouse of sorts of travel opportunities for those who want to supply hands-on help. This information can be obtained by contacting Baldwin at A Web page is being created and another meeting will update everyone and once again serve as a place for people to connect with those who need their help at the grass roots level. 


The meeting identified the following volunteer opportunities:


·         Women’s Federation for World Peace – has taken groups of students to serve in Haiti for the past two summers.  Works with ALMEDA (Haitian Doctors that offer services in the countryside) and IRFF (International Relief Friendship Foundation, Inc.).  Planning a Spring Break trip, and summer trip to Cap Haiten.  Contact: Evelyn Drake, 813-403-0408 


·         SOIL: An active group in Cap Haitien, Haiti whose immediate needs are medical supplies, water, food and money.  Will be taking groups for service in the near future.  Website:


BullsAid Connects Students, for Now and for the Future

The catastrophe in Haiti pointed up the need to establish a coordinating entity that can serve beyond this one event. BullsAid was created to focus on relief, recovery and rebuilding in Haiti with a long-term goal of staying organized to help the surrounding community and to reach out to communities around the world facing hardships. 


“Faced with so many concerned students who wanted nothing more than to help in any way they could, it was very natural for a truly collaborative group to emerge,” said Melissa Espinosa, director of USF’s Center for Leadership & Civic Engagement.   


BullsAid encompasses several USF student organizations, members of USF Student Government, and the center. The group plans to hold fundraising shows, work with the USF’s American Red Cross Club and other local benefit events including the Caribbean Cultural Exchange’s Welcome Back Party/Haiti Benefit Party at the Jerk Hut Restaurant (a portion of the proceeds go to the Haiti Relief) Jan. 29, 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., the Tampa Bay for Haiti Relief Drive at the University Area Community Center, Jan. 31, from noon to 6 p.m. and a forthcoming Red Cross Dance Concert tentatively scheduled for March 23. They can be contacted at: 


USF’s First Responders – the American Red Cross Club

Robin Ersing serves as the faculty advisor to the first student-organized American Red Cross Club at USF. Ersing, a professor in the School of Social Work, established USF's first training partnership with the American Red Cross (ARC) to certify social work students and others in the delivery of disaster-related services. At the first mention of the earthquake, they were ready to help. The club partnered with the Office of Leadership & Community Engagement, USF’s Club Creole and others to serve as a conduit for donations and supplies destined for Haiti. With its long-established network of resources, the American Red Cross is positioned to be among the first responders in disasters around the world. 


“I was really proud of the USF ARC Club,” said Ersing. “Student officers and club members demonstrated immediate leadership in their quick response to aid in the relief effort.  In the days ahead, the USF ARC club will continue to work closely with Red Cross staff to train students in disaster services and other volunteer roles as the recovery effort ramps up locally.  In addition to collecting donations, USF students will be involved by preparing comfort kits for Haitian children and families that begin to arrive in Florida, as well as aiding in any mass care effort.”


To get in touch with the USF ARC Club, contact Ersing at or (813) 974-6572.


A Concerned Professor Worries about USF’s Haitian Students

USF Africana Studies Chair Deborah Plant was likewise moved to help and initially focused on the emotional well-being of Haitian students, reaching out to them with the offer of counseling support in partnership with Baldwin’s group and the USF Counseling Center (whose services can be found at or by calling (813) 974-2831).


“Haitian people are proud and strong,” she said. “We all need to be culturally sensitive and ask what they need, not tell them what to do. I’m especially concerned that we not lose students who are suffering and not taking the time to deal with the suffering because they’re holding it in and not used to asking for this kind of help. We’re calling on their professors and the academic community to be sensitive to what they’re going through.”


Plant said that some Haitians she knows are dismayed by the continuous references to Haiti as one of “the poorest nations in the world” and by the negative ways Haitian people are portrayed in the media – both before and after this tragic event. 


“It is very important to approach all people with respect, not as stereotypes, and this is especially true for Haitian people in this current climate,” Plant said. “Knowing their history helps and we’re going to do more to educate people about Haiti through lectures and teach-ins. Africana Studies faculty member Kersuze Simeon-Jones will teach a course next spring that is focused entirely on Haiti. The course will be titled "Haiti: Legacy of Resilience and Freedom.”


She encourages Haitian students and those who are friends and supporters of Haitian students who want to talk informally and who may have ideas about how the department might be of service to them – in the short term and in the long term – to contact her at (813) 974-2427. Also students can visit the Africana Studies website ( where information and links on Haiti support efforts have been posted. 


A University-wide Coordinated Effort

Roger Brindley, interim associate director of USF World, is coordinating USF’s relief efforts related to Haiti. He is heading an ad hoc work group representing USF faculty, staff and students, which will meet once a week over the next several weeks to establish what initiatives are presently being planned and to develop a coordinated effort that will take into account Haiti’s mid-term and long-term needs. 


“In the immediate future an extraordinary number of organizations are trying to assist Haiti. At USF we are committed to planning for coordinated and effective disaster relief efforts six months and six years from now,” Brindley said. “Sadly it will take a generation for the Haitian people to recover and we’re reaching out to our Haitian community to discuss the long-term needs of Haiti and how best the university can respond to them.” 


In addition, there will be a concerted effort at USF to identify all faculty who are already doing work in and around Haiti, with the view to synthesizing efforts and making the best use of everyone’s expertise and resources. Brindley can be contacted at and all are requested to direct relief effort information to him.



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.