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Students and GU Pitch-In To Help Haitians Following Earthquake

Since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti and killed and injured tens of thousands on January 12, members of the Gallaudet community have been mobilizing to aid the survivors. Some have already begun relief efforts for those affected, while others have fundraising and educational plans underway.

There is little doubt that the disaster has hit deaf and hard of hearing Haitians especially hard. “Any disaster leaves people without shelter, food, and access to health care services, but for deaf people, it is compounded by the lack of access to information about the disaster itself or about where to obtain emergency assistance,” said Dr. Amy Wilson, director of Gallaudet’s Master of Arts in International Development program. “In Haiti’s case, the majority of social services come from foreign sources,” Wilson explained, “and if the nongovernmental and governmental agencies are not taught or supported in their efforts to include a marginalized population in their relief assistance, deaf people and people with disabilities are overlooked.”

The Department of Athletics took the opportunity to help deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people in the stricken country at the January 13 women’s and men’s basketball games against Hood College. Players, fans, and officials observed a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of the quake before the men’s game began, and Provost’s Office and Athletics Department staff collected monetary donations. A follow-up effort took place at the January 20 men’s and women’s doubleheader against Wesley College, where the department dedicated all proceeds from the games to the American Red Cross to benefit quake survivors.

Students and alumni have teamed up to address the needs of Haiti’s deaf population with the Spin-4-Haiti fundraiser on February 5 and 6. Lena Dunning, a 2007 graduate of the Master’s in Social Work program and a personal trainer, originated the idea for this stationary cycling event, and the Social Work Department is sponsoring the event, along with Athletics, Global Reach Out Initiative, Deaf Youth USA, and Dunning’s business, Mezher Up. Proceeds will benefit the students of Institut Montfort, a school for deaf and deaf-blind students in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and the Haiti Association of the Deaf. Video Services staff in Academic Technology plan to document the efforts and disseminate the result to inspire others in the deaf community.

Another effort seeks to raise awareness along with funds. Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky, a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Dr. Marguerite Glass, chair of the Art Department, have updated the service-learning component of a course they will co-teach this semester. GSR 221: “Rebels with a Cause: Picasso and the Rebirth of Art” will have a new focus on the Haitian community. For the class’s service project, Berdichevsky and Glass will ask the students to research deaf schools and organizations, select one to support, and design and implement a plan to raise funds and awareness.

Because the project is student-directed, the professors do not yet know what form it will take. However, said Berdichevsky, “it will definitely involve educating themselves and the campus about the historical and socio-economic issues that contribute to the current tragedy and coming up with creative ideas to provide assistance to meet the needs of a partner local deaf organization or school.”

Eve Mitton, an employee in Human Resources Services, and Juan Carlos Reinbold, from the Finance Office, will present in the class with graduate student Sylvie Marc-Charles-Weir. Mitton first planted the idea of a school exclusively for deaf children in Haiti when she was a child herself in the 1950s, and was its first student. Reinbold attended the school, and Marc-Charles-Weir has become involved in relief efforts for Montfort and its students.

In addition, Catherine Valcourt-Pearce, a Gallaudet alumna and coordinator of publications and development for the Clerc Center’s Office of Public Relations, Products, and Training, is collecting donations for the Faith-Hope-Love Infant Rescue in Port-au-Prince. The children’s home is run by Dorothy Pearce, her mother-in-law and mother of alumnus Larry Pearce. Donations can also be made directly to the Christian Light Foundation, designated as “Pearce-Haiti Infant Rescue.”

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