__Sarah Mellman contributed to this report__
Approximately 200 College of William and Mary students crammed into Blow Memorial Hall Wednesday for William and Mary Supports Haiti’s first interest meeting.
“I am here for the same reason as so many of you,” Kaveh Sadeghian ’12, a member of the organization’s steering committee, said. “We see a tragedy like [the earthquake] happen, and we get this raw, human desire to help.”
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake occurred 16 miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince Jan. 12, causing widespread destruction throughout the country.
Students at the College have rallied their Tribe spirit to support Haiti’s earthquake victims.
“I know that William and Mary students are incredibly passionate about service,” WMSH member Lamar Shambley ’10 said. “I knew that there would be a group eventually, and I knew it just had to be done to unite the students on campus.”
WMSH’s goal is to serve as an umbrella organization to help campus groups plan events. This includes setting up a universal bank account, ensuring that the donations get into the right hands, and by ensuring that local organizations are chosen as recipients for donations rather than large international charities like the Red Cross.
“Service can be very hierarchal,” WMSH member Mohammad Torabinejad ’10 said. “We want a partnership, a way to make it more horizontal.”
With the guidance of College students and recent graduates who were in Haiti at the time of the quake, Shambley, Sadeghian and three other steering committee members hope to channel fundraising efforts toward Haitian charities that can best help the victims of the catastrophe.
“With the work of Jonna [Knappenberger ’09] and Landon [Yarrington M.A. ’09 Ph.D ’15], we know groups in Haiti who will directly benefit from our help,” Shambley said. “They are smaller organizations, so we can see exactly how we develop a change.”
Both former anthropology undergraduate students, Knappenberger and Yarrington, who is now a graduate student at the College, were in Haiti conducting research when the earthquake struck.
One hope for the organization is to help Fondwa University in Haiti, a new college working on sustainable development for the island nation.
“We all need to know that this isn’t something that’s going to be fixed in three months when it runs its press course,” Sadeghian said. “This is decades and decades of rebuilding we’re looking at, and who better to empower than the youth of Haiti, the generation that will be doing this rebuilding? Groups that are smaller and run by Haitians are essential because they know that rebuilding and restructuring don’t end at food and water. They are going about these essential services with an eye to the future.”
Another organization that is organizing relief efforts for Haiti is Ruritan, a new on-campus service organization. President of Ruritan, Paul Lendway ’10, organized HEART — Haiti Earthquake American Relief Team — as a project to unify campus organizations’ charitable efforts.
“We’ve gotten groups involved from the [International Relations] club to honor fraternities to SOCA [Students of the Caribbean Association],” Lendway said. “The IR club has a deal with the College Deli whereby the deli will give 10 percent of its profits on February 4 to the Bush-Clinton Foundation. HEART is helping with publicity.”
Ruritan is planning a Valentine’s Day fundraiser.
“On Valentine’s Day, HEART is going to make construction paper cut-outs of hearts and sell them at the Sadler Center,” Lendway said. “Any profit we make will go to the Red Cross.”
While both WMSH and HEART are focused on uniting the campus to provide relief for victims of the earthquake, leaders of both projects emphasized that they intend to collaborate on fundraising.
“People know that we don’t need to compete, we’re just all trying to unite and focus ourselves in one direction,” Shambley said. “I just hope William and Mary students stay tuned and involved, even though now it’s a hot topic.”
WMSH member Mallory Johnson ’10 said that she hopes the outpouring of support for Haiti will lead to a continued charitable spirit at the College.
“We want this to be something that will last,” Johnson said. “There is so much to learn from this … We want to make sure this isn’t something that [will] come and go.”