Richmond Group Working to Help Haitians
A group from St. Bridget’s Catholic Church and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Haiti when the earthquake struck is looking beyond the time it will take for the country to recover.
The Richmonders were in the town of Hinche, that’s about 50 miles or so from the hard-hit city of Port au Prince. That town, with only minor damage, was being overwhelmed by refugees. The church group immediately began to organize relief efforts.
Yates: We heard somewhere that there are 900 registered NGOs in Haiti and everyone from the Red Cross to UNICEF to private groups are trying to provide, you know, food and water and those sorts of bare necessities. If it weren’t for those groups, we wouldn’t be able to look at some of the other projects we are working on.
Danny Yates, a William and Mary freshman, is one of the group’s leaders:
Yates: We feel that since we already have this personal connection, why not look at other options. Specifically, we’re trying to find a home for 2-3 Haitian university students who were displaced in the quake and whom we know personally from different visits to Haiti and to Hinche. These students come from the small town of Hinche but were in university in Port au Prince at the time of the quake and they just barely escaped with their lives and a few clothes on their back.
Like so many others in Haiti, the education of these students is on hold.
Yates: Now they are back in Hinche with their families and just waiting because most estimates say it will be years until the university system in Haiti will be re-opens. Basically our goal is to bring two or three over just to let them take a year or two of English classes, perhaps a government class, learn a little about econ, so that when they return they will be, you know, instantly, recognized as leaders and folks that can work with the NGOs for the more long-.term picture.
Yates says the group is increasingly aware of how much work it’s going to take to accomplish their goal:
Yates: Basically it comes down to in order to have a foreign student come to the U.S. to study, it has to be a decision by a U.S. institution or university. At which point, these universities, which are already certified to take international students, they are able to admit the student and then submit them as a possible candidate for an F1 visa from State Department. In most cases that runs pretty smoothly. I just heard that yesterday, hm, Haiti opened up its acceptance for new F1 visas to the US. So it is a possibility.
The immediate need is to find a school:
Yates: We are trying to convince any Virginia higher ed institution who has this capability to take the students. They do have, luckily, they left their passports at home with their family, they have high school diplomas, they have some college records.
How anxious are the Haitian students?
Yates: They spent a whole day at the cybercafe because the computers are so slow and internet connection is so poor. They tried to scan these and they said they were in there for about four hours and then the electricity ran out because the gasoline in the generator wasn’t enough so everything they’d worked on that whole day was ruined. But the next day they showed up again. That’s the kind of dedication and how much they are really looking forward to this opportunity if we can make it happen.
Tonight at the Maggie Walker Governor’s School, Yates who is a graduate, and others will talk about their experience and their relief work. It’s open to the public.
Yates: We’ll be presenting about what we saw before, during and after the earthquake, as well as some of the news we’ve been hearing from friends over in Haiti and our daily phone calls and emails. Some of the pictures we’ve been receiving and really where we think Richmonders will have the best opportunity to provide direct relief.
The St. Bridget/Sacred Heart group has a website: firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Ogle, WCVE News