AUS, Caribbean Students’ Society respond to Haiti earthquake

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In response to the massive earthquake that struck Haiti last week, McGill student organizations and the greater Montreal community are rapidly organizing to raise money and contribute to relief efforts. With over 100,000 Haitians currently living in Montreal, the disaster has mobilized the city’s student community.

On Wednesday evening, the Arts Undergraduate Society executive sent an email to its members, outlining its Haiti fundraising strategy. For the next week, the AUS will be visiting classrooms to collect contributions, and will solicit donations in the AUS lounge. On January 21, the AUS will also host a Bar des Arts event in the AUS lounge, with all proceeds going toward the Haitian relief effort.

AUS President Karina Gould said that between student interest and the support of the Faculties of Education, Law, and Science, the student response has been admirable.

“The feedback has been incredible … We have about 40 to 50 people who have just said ‘what can I do, how can I help?'” Gould said. “It’s amazing to see how quickly people can come together in a time of crisis. It is unfortunate that we require a crisis to come together.”

As of yesterday, the AUS had already raised $4331.10 in its attempt to reach $6,000 by January 25 – approximately one dollar per AUS student. Because the money will be contributed through Oxfam Quebec, an organization on the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund list, the Canadian government will match every dollar donated with an equal contribution of its own.

Among the groups mobilized in conjunction with the AUS is McGill’s Caribbean Students’ Society. Despite McGill’s relatively small Haitian community compared to other Montreal universities, the CSS has been extremely active in coordinating relief efforts.

“We encourage all McGill students to dig deep and think about the situation that is going on in Haiti, and just to give as much as possible,” said CSS president Kyle Dorsett.

Dorsett added that the CSS is also working with networks such as the National Society of Black Engineers, McGill African Student Society, and the Black Student Network, to develop additional fundraising efforts.

“We are really concerned with making a coordinated, organized effort so that none of these organizations step on each others toes,” said CSS Vice-President Shari Haynes, who also noted the CSS’ collaboration with Concordia.

“Concordia has a fantastic set up and the Concordia administration has gotten deeply involved, so we have somebody more official to appeal to and somebody who can make appeals for Haitian students to corporations and the provincial government.”

Both Dorsett and Haynes said that the most effective role for the CSS currently is to act as an advisor and facilitate communication among individuals and organizations interested in contributing.

In addition to efforts by the AUS and the CSS, the Ghetto Shul, a synagogue run by McGill students, offered its Park Avenue building to host “Hope for Haiti” last Saturday night. The event, which had an open-donation cover charge, raised over $1,000 for the Doctors Without Borders Haitian relief effort.

“We already had a small Saturday night event planned and I was just feeling so heartbroken … and then I realized that we could easily change it into a fundraiser – get some musicians together, get some people buying beers – and send the money down,” said Leibish Hundert, Ghetto Shul Rabbi. “These are human beings and we care – and that trumps everything.”

Also on Wednesday, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum issued a statement offering the university’s condolences to members of the Haitian community and McGill community who have been affected by the earthquake.

The university also announced yesterday that it will participate in a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of the earthquake. The commemoration is scheduled for 4:53 p.m., precisely one week after the earthquake struck, and will be observed by all other universities in the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities.

Although no current students, faculty, or staff have been identified among the casualties, The Globe and Mail has reported the death of McGill alumnus Guillaume Siemienski, an employee of the Canadian International Development Agency. Siemienkski had previously worked in Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Slovakia, and was on assignment in Haiti with the United Nations.