Six Months Later, Harvard Still Fights for Haiti

Harvard continues to aid the rebuilding of Haiti more than six months after a cataclysmic earthquake hit the country, hoping to counter concerns that relief efforts have fallen off the radar.

In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 12 disaster in Port-au-Prince, student groups and faculty at Harvard held supply drives, coordinated fund raisers, organized benefit concerts, and even traveled over to Haiti to provide medical aid.

But as the initial wave of charitable efforts died down, some members of Physicians for Haiti—a group of physicians in the Boston area committed to rebuilding the devastated country—expressed concern that relief efforts had diminished in priority over the past few months.

“On the one hand, this is an unmatched natural disaster. On the other hand it’s human nature that things [get] out of sight and out of mind,” said Physicians for Haiti member Zadok J. Sacks, who works as a clinical fellow in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The media only keeps something as a forefront news story for so long. We have an uphill battle to fight.”

Michelle E. Morse, also a clinical fellow at the Hospital and member of Physicians for Haiti, said that the motivation to continue relief efforts is natural for those who have lost family members or friends in the country. The goal, she said, is to encourage individuals who do not have such a “personal connection” to develop a “long-term commitment” to helping Haiti.

“This problem is not going to go away,” Morse said.

To continue the fight for Haiti, Physicians for Haiti—which includes Harvard Medical School affiliates—seeks to promote sustained engagement with the issues confronting one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

On Saturday, the group hosted a benefit concert at the House of Blues in Boston, featuring bands like the Bad Rabbits and the Gilfrants. The event, which was attended by more than 300 people, raised about $8,500, according to organizers Sacks and Morse.

The money will be donated to the construction of a new Partners in Health hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti. Partners In Health, co-founded in 1987 by then-Medical School student and now-Harvard professor Paul Farmer, has been operating community health clinics in Haiti for over two decades.

Along with other rehabilitative, clinical, and advocacy initiatives, Partners has established a Stand With Haiti Fund to provide the resources to rebuild Haiti by strengthening services and expanding social and economic support, according to their website.

Other parts of the University have been working to aid Haiti as well. In January, Harvard established an Employees Emergency Relief Fund to aid employees whose families had been affected by the earthquake. The fund has provided support for 145 individuals.

Similarly, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a University-wide academic and research center for response to humanitarian crises, has partnered with the American Refugee Committee to provide medical services to over 1,700 displaced Haitians now living in ARC’s Camp Hope.

“I think the meaningful work in Haiti is ongoing and will be ongoing for months and years to come,” HHI Director Michael J. VanRooyen said. “This is a natural progression whenever there’s a big natural disaster of any kind.”

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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