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Faculty, students head for Haiti to shape UC's role in recovery

rice2Congress recently held a hearing titled, "The Crisis in Haiti: Are We Moving Fast Enough?"
 
Those who have visited the quake-devastated Caribbean nation have no trouble answering that question.
 
"No images I've seen on TV can compare to what I saw in Haiti," said UC Santa Barbara Professor Claudine Michel, who visited her homeland in May. "In terms of daily life and daily survival, people are suffering. They're living in tents and not having much. Rebuilding is a monumental task."
 
Michel will return to Haiti this month with a group of students and faculty from UCLA and other UC campuses determined to put UC expertise to work for the Haitian people. On Aug. 14, 21 representatives of the student-founded UC Haiti Initiative will travel to the island nation for a 10-day fact-finding visit. The group, which includes 13 students, will visit Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Mirebalais and Leogane, the epicenter of the 7.0 temblor that struck on Jan. 12. They will meet with government officials, non-governmental organization leaders and community members. Their goal is to find a Haitian community to work with on specific recovery projects that can be sustained by the people themselves.
 
Among those going from UCLA will be Dr. Ami Ben-Artzi; Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, associate professor in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies; and student Anna Alexandroni.
 
"We're looking forward to finding a small community where we can most effectively pursue our goal of providing assistance on Haitian terms to our Haitian brothers and sisters," said Nicolas Pascal, the student executive director of the UC Haiti Initiative, who visited the disaster-stricken nation with Michel in May. Pascal is a graduate student in global and international studies at UC Santa Barbara
 
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UCLA physician Dr. Ami Ben-Artzi (right) and UC Davis pediatrician Dr. Douglas Gross head the UC Haiti Initiative's health-care group.
Last April, Pascal helped organize the UC Haiti Spring Summit at UC San Francisco. More than 200 students, faculty and staff from all the UC campuses attended with a goal of moving beyond good intentions and the small campus fundraising events that followed the quake.
 
Helping to fund student expenses for the trip are Chancellor Gene Block, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Janina Montero and the leadership of the David Geffen School of Medicine, including Dr. Eugene Washington, vice chancellor for health services and dean of the medical school.
 
"Caring for those who are in need — whether the uninsured in Los Angeles, or Haitians devastated by the earthquake — is instinctive to our students at the David Geffen School of Medicine," Washington said. "I am confident that these young women and men, drawing on their extensive knowledge, deep compassion and unbridled enthusiasm, will be able to make a positive difference in the lives of the Haitian people. And they will become better doctors and better citizens as a result of this experience." 
 
Among the faculty who will be going and paying their own expenses is Ben-Artzi, a physician who went to Haiti as a volunteer with the International Medical Corps. That organization is helping arrange transportation and lodging for the UC delegation.
 
"Not nearly enough has been done to help the people,"  said Ben-Artzi, who co-directs the initiative’s health-care group along with UC Davis pediatrician Douglas Gross. "People outside Port-au-Prince feel they've been on their own. The work of the NGOs is not sustainable. A lot would like to scale back their efforts in Haiti or to pull out."
    
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A tent city in Haiti.
Ben-Artzi visited Haiti in May, going to local hospitals, schools and universities and stopping people on the street to ask what kind of help they need.
 
People have gotten used to using the free health care system that Western medical personnel have been providing, he said. Now that system of emergency care has replaced the Haitian system. Ben-Artzi said he would like to help Haiti establish a system that could sustain itself after the NGOs leave.
 
Although many organizations are working in Haiti, Ben-Artzi said, UC's effort will be different because of its interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach. For example, the health care group might work with the agriculture group to encourage Haitians to plant crops with high nutritional value.
 
"We're really going to focus on redevelopment through research and education," Ben-Artzi said. "We would like to focus on solutions devised with Haitian partners and implemented by Haitians."
 
The UC Haiti Initiative intends to apply for status as a UC multi-campus research unit. And there are relief organizations interested in partnering with the UC group.
 
"We have these ideas but who are we going to do them with and what will our funding be?" asked Tu Tran, a UC Berkeley student and one of the initiative founders. "I just hope we can walk away with specific ideas and projects and establish solid partnerships and get going."