Whitman students start Haiti initiative

The current crisis is seen as a springboard for a more sustained effort down the road.

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WALLA WALLA - In the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, six Whitman students founded the Haiti Relief Initiative to encourage student groups and clubs to use their resources to raise awareness of the crisis. The earthquake claimed thousands of lives and has displaced over a million Haitians.

Independent of HRI, projects initiated by Whitman student organizations and individuals have already raised hundreds of dollars for relief efforts. HRI hopes to continue to increase donations by further promoting these independent initiatives.

"We are a connection-based organization," said Jack Lazar, a first-year student and HRI co-founder. "Our primary focus is not to become an organization that does fundraisers, but one that uses the infrastructure already in place to raise money and awareness."

HRI is coordinating a Hope for Haiti weekend, with events hosted by student groups to raise money for Partners in Health, a nonprofit that brings medical care to poor communities and has worked in Haiti for 20 years. According to the organization's Web site, PIH aims "to care for (its) patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease in their communities and to share lessons learned around the world."

Hope for Haiti weekend will kick off Friday afternoon, when HRI fries and sells plantains in Prentiss Residence Hall. On Saturday evening, the Black Student Union is hosting its second dance to benefit relief efforts in Haiti. On Sunday, a collective Super Bowl party hosted by Whitman fraternities and sororities will promote HRI's online drive for donations. HRI's goal is to raise $2,000 by Sunday. After this weekend, a benefit competition of student bands and a candlelight vigil are also set to take place.

"We were hoping to organize (more activities) for this weekend," Lazar said. "But the time frame was too short. So, we are now thinking months ahead as well."

The long-term plan is to turn HRI into a new organization called Whitman Humanitarian Coalition. Comprised of students, faculty and interested humanitarians beyond the Whitman campus, goals for the WHC will include fundraising for relief efforts against -- and educating students about -- injustices and disasters around the world. With a humanitarian network in place, Lazar also hopes future fundraising efforts will be simpler to organize.

"WHC, like HRI, will also use networks of resources and clubs, but it will be its own stand-alone, self-sufficient organization," he explained. "I see HRI as an initiative underneath the larger goal of WHC."

Only in his third week of classes as a college student, after spending last semester in Nepal, Lazar is excited about the future of HRI and WHC, and the enthusiasm he has seen from students.

"I'm amazed at how interested people are in getting engaged and involved," he said. "I'm just glad that we can be an outlet for at least some of those interests."

Lara Goodrich can be reached at laragoodrich@wwub.com.


Learn more, help out

For more information on Partners in Health's (PIH) work in Haiti, go to standwithhaiti.org/haiti.

To donate to PIH through the Whitman Haiti Relief Initiative, go to act.pih.org/page/outreach/view/earthquake_group/WhitmanforHaiti.

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