Lexington, Virginia • February 3, 2010
With the death toll in Haiti estimated at 150,000 and climbing, Washington and Lee's student organization Change for Haiti wonders how to unite its community of about 2,900 students, faculty and staff in response to the horrifying natural disaster.
Sophomore Caitlin Edgar, a co-founder of Change for Haiti, reminds us of the dire need for relief there. "Sparking a campus-wide response to the devastation in Haiti is far easier than maintaining it. We are so far removed from the reality that it is easy to forget about it. It is vital that we continually remind ourselves and the community that just because the news media has shifted some of their focus, the situation has not changed."
Edgar and many of the student leaders in Change for Haiti have worldly experience that brings an acute perspective to their efforts. The parents of co-founder Yasmine Espert, a W&L junior, are from Haiti. Born in South Africa, Edgar attributes part of her inspiration to her background. "I know that my experience in South Africa has made me far more sensitive to the conditions of a life of poverty in a third world country. They are not just an idea in my head but a reality I have witnessed."
News of Haiti has dropped off media updates, and the world is slowly moving past the January 12 decimation. Change for Haiti, however, is far from ending its endeavors. The students find motivation in such details as how more than half the Haitian population lived in abject poverty even before the earthquake. Only half of the population over the age of 15 is literate, while life expectancy is only 60 years.
"Change for Haiti is about more than donating money," says Edgar. "It is a movement to mobilize a collective response as well as inspire individual responses to the needs that exist beyond our cushioned lives on the W&L campus."
Accordingly, Change for Haiti is sponsoring a benefit concert on Wednesday, Feb. 3, with performers from W&L and the Lexington area. It is at 6 p.m. in Wilson Hall. T-shirts sporting the phrase "L'Union Fait La Force" ("Strength in Unity") will be on sale starting Feb. 3. Donation jars are located in Elrod Commons at the security desk, Café 77 and the University Store.
"The fund-raising side of our work is crucial, but beyond it I really hope that our efforts will educate our community about the history, politics and society of Haiti," Edgar adds. "Long-term change requires personal investment, and personal investment requires truly understanding the depth and breadth of the situation. If our work now can awaken us and those around us to the need of others, then we will become more compassionate and conscientious citizens of the world, willing to sacrifice our immediate self-interest for long-term stability and growth."
For more information on how to support Change for Haiti, please visit the Facebook page. There you will find contact information for the Red Cross and the Haitian Health Foundation, which receive the majority of Change for Haiti's donations.
— by Maggie Sutherland '10