Breaking Bread and Talking Rebuilding

By Vickie Chachere

Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2010) - Patrick Jouissance lost friends and family members in the earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan, 12.  Nerlyne Desravines’ hears the pain in her father’s voice as he describes what has happened to the nation. And Fred LaGrand plans for the day he can return to Haiti and use the architecture degree he earned at the University of South Florida to rebuild his homeland – and build it right.

They were among two dozen students with ties to Haiti who gathered Thursday with USF President Judy Genshaft, Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall and other campus leaders for a lunch organized by Student Affairs to allow the students to talk about their experiences in the earthquake and their hopes of playing a role in the rebuilding of the island nation.

(To read President Genshaft's letter regarding travel to Haiti, click here.)

Friday, Genshaft issued a memorandum advising the university community on how USF intends to proceed in planning for its role in the rebuilding of Haiti and called on faculty with needed expertise to coordinate their efforts through the Provost’s office. The university will not sponsor or sanction student trips to Haiti due to safety and health concerns.

While weeks have passed since the world was shocked by the catastrophic loss of life, for these students the aftermath of the earthquake remains part of their daily lives.

“It’s as if the whole country has fallen down,” said Desravines, a biology major. “But I know we are going to prevail through this tragedy and come back stronger and better.”

There about 80 students at USF with ties to Haiti, and just five whose home addresses are there. The president, working with senior administrators dedicated one of her regular monthly lunch-and-learn meetings to students with ties to Haiti as part of the university’s continuing effort to connect students to services they may need.

Genshaft also asked students to share the ideas on how USF can be involved in the rebuilding of Haiti.

The university is planning a long-term, coordinated and cohesive response to the disaster, said Roger Brindley, interim associate director of USF World.

USF is in the process of identifying areas such as public health and education where its expertise and past experience in working with Haiti would be most beneficial and sustainable in long-term reconstruction efforts. Before the earthquake, USF had ongoing programs in Haiti in public health and education, making those a natural foundation for future efforts.

And Major General Luis Visot, executive director of USF’s Joint Military Science Leadership Center who is also the commanding general of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, has been deployed to Haiti to oversee logistics and the distribution of relief food and supplies.

In the meantime, the university continues to reach out to students to make those who have been affected personally by the disaster have the support – social, emotional and financial – they need.

“We really care,” Genshaft said. “We care about making a difference for you and your family as much as we can. There isn’t anything easy about it. But I want to make sure we can take care of you best we can.”

For the students, just knowing the USF remains focused on Haiti is a comfort, said Cindeline Fleurima. Student organizations such as Club Creole quickly organized fundraising efforts and remain active in raising money and awareness about Haiti.

Desravines, whose father works for the Haitian government, said even though her town was not physically damaged by the earthquake, the disaster rattled the psyches of everyone in the country.

“We’re fine,” she said of her relatives in Haiti. “But just the mood of the country is different. Everyone in the country has relatives who are affected.”

The message Thursday for USF students most affected by the earthquake is that their university is ready to assist with counseling to help them through the loss of friends and relatives and financial aid for those whose families now facing substantial hurdles. Meningall urged the students to seek help if needed, and to be active partners in developing USF’s future involvement with Haiti.

“We are thinking about you, we are concerned about you, and we are concerned about your success,” Meningall said.


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.