January 12, 2010 — January 12, 2015
When the horrific earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti at 4:53 on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12, 2010, Louis Herns Marcelin was in a meeting with Haitian and U.S. officials. During the violent rumblings, the building they were in shifted, as if on axis, about 30 degrees. They rushed outside. They were some of the lucky ones. Nearby, and throughout the capital city, people lay dead and dying, tens of thousands crushed in collapsed buildings. Upward of 200,000 died, with millions displaced.
“I saw good people die,” says Marcelin, a Haitian native who is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami.
In the hours and days following the earthquake, a small army of Marcelin’s colleagues was mobilizing less than 700 miles away in Miami. Medical troops with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Project Medishare, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies gathered supplies. Other volunteers with the University packed travel bags and stood ready to help in any way possible. Students, faculty, and staff organized clothing drives, raised money for relief efforts, and held vigils.
The University of Miami’s longstanding relationship with Haiti and its people—dating back decades—grew stronger through the tears and the worry.
Led by Barth Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare and a UM neurosurgeon, the first team arrived in Haiti less than 24 hours after the earthquake to stand witness to the staggering catastrophe. For months, the medical teams worked in a tent hospital erected on the tarmac at the main airport.
In Miami, the University’s leadership, deans, and faculty looked for more ways to help. They collaborated with Haitian officials and U.S. agencies. Nearly every school and college reached out in some way. Faculty spearheaded efforts for reconstruction. Scientists studied fault lines and identified areas at risk. Educators drew up programs to address mental health issues. The earthquake’s impact on higher education, violence, and sense of community was chronicled. Others looked to document the tragedy through storytelling.
During the past five years since the earthquake, hundreds of UM doctors, nurses, faculty, staff, and students have been involved in the recovery and reconstruction. Their visits have resulted in indelible memories of horror and joy. They have been part of the healing and part of the future. But UM’s volunteers, as Barth Green notes, are not there to just “kick up some dust” and leave. The University is committed to teaching and service, and training Haitians to take care of Haitians with sustainable programs, community building, and infrastructure.
“UM has a tradition, almost a genetic disposition, of serving underserved people, and pursuing community service and social justice,” said Green, who co-founded Project Medishare 20 years ago with Arthur Fournier, the now retired vice chair of the Miller School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. “I am very proud of what we’ve done, but it’s still not enough.”
From a student who wants to empower young Haitians to be change agents, to UM educators providing mental health services training, the University of Miami’s faculty and students are sharing knowledge, experiencing optimism, and finding hope in the hemisphere’s poorest nation.
In conjunction with Project Medishare, the Miller School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies are bringing critical and primary care, medical equipment, and training to Haiti, enabling UM students to serve some of the neediest people in the remotest areas of the country.
It’s inconceivable that a country of 10 million people has no state-of-the-art trauma hospital to provide emergency care. That is about to change. Also, the School of Architecture is working with Haitians to create new sustainable communities outside of the congested capital of Port-au-Prince.
The UM community holds Haiti in its heart as the School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic and Immigration Clinic fights deportations and the Lowe Art Museum celebrates Haitian art.
When the earthquake struck, ham radio was one of the only means of communication on the island. Now Haiti has a permanent license, and can talk with UM’s School of Medicine. Here in the U.S., Haitians turned to social media for their news and information.