UB reaches out to Haiti

By Amanda Woods
On January 22, 2010

            For many UB students and Buffalo residents, the devastation from last week's earthquake in Haiti may seem worlds away, but for others, the tragedy hits closer to home.

            Samarth Joseph, a Haitian-born Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography, lost 15 family members in the earthquake.

            'My parents live in New York City, but many very close family members, including aunts and uncles and cousins, were killed,' Joseph said. 'I knew them and even stayed with them last April when I was in Haiti doing economic development research for my dissertation.'

            She received devastating news from other family members who don't expect to survive.

            'I've received texts from family members living in and near Port-au-Prince.  Three haven't been found yet,' Joseph said. 'One told me the smell is terrible, bodies are being burned and says he is dying because there is no water, no food.  Although the aftershocks have subsided, he told me people are still shaking inside.  It is an awful, awful situation, as we know.'

            Joseph's fiancé, an electrical engineer, was injured in the earthquake and is unable to leave Haiti.

            'He was supposed to visit me through May, but a minor paperwork issue held up his departure,' Joseph said. 'Then the quake hit and the problem can't be resolved now because of the destruction of records and offices.  I have to help him, too.'

            She hopes to initiate an intervention on her fiancé's behalf through contacts in Washington, D.C.

            Joseph originally planned to travel to Haiti to help family members and distribute solar cookers from Solar Liberty Foundation in Williamsville to people in need.  However, according to Paige Mecca, executive director of Solar Liberty, Joseph cancelled her trip because of concerns about getting in and out of the country with the equipment.

            Despite Joseph's change of plans, Solar Liberty will continue to contribute to the Haitian relief effort. Mecca, an alumna of UB's law school, said that the organization still plans to transport the solar cookers to Haiti.

            'A lot of people are scavenging for cooking oil … so the solar cooker would eliminate the need for that,' Mecca said. 

            Mecca explained that the cookers contain a device that alerts users when the temperature reaches 160 degrees, and instantly kills bacteria.

            Solar Liberty plans to collaborate with Partners In Health and use a solar identification system to aid the wounded.  It also intends to purchase pre-packaged food for the famished population.

            Mecca encourages people to donate to Solar Liberty's efforts through the Web site.  Its efforts require 1,000 solar cookers, priced at $100 each. Currently, the organization is already making an impact in the troubled country.

            Solar Liberty is not the only Buffalo-based organization that plans to reach out to Haiti. Andre Filiatrault, a UB civil and environmental engineering professor and director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), is traveling to Haiti with the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) to determine the structural stability of hospitals and warehouses in Port au Prince.


            According to Donald Goralski, the senior program officer of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships and MCEER, Filiatrault and his colleagues are fully prepared for their undertaking.


            'Members of the AIDG-MCEER Haiti Earthquake Engineering Relief Mission possess structural and earthquake engineering know-how to help determine the safety of the damaged structures,' Goralski said.  'Several members have experience conducting engineering investigations following previous devastating earthquakes.'


            Goralski points out that MCEER has been dispatched after previous earthquakes, but the nature of this mission is different.


            '[Previous assignments were] typically focused on gathering data that can be used to improve the stability of structures and infrastructure in future earthquakes,' Goralski said.  'This mission is truly a relief mission.  It will result in speeding much-needed aid to the people of Haiti in these most challenging of times.'


            Goralski enumerates the challenges the team is likely to face in Haiti – the suffering population in their midst, disease and civil unrest, and the possibility of earthquake aftershocks. Despite this, he believes Filiatrualt and his colleagues are well prepared and courageous.


            'They have taken every precaution possible and have chosen to leave the comforts of home to help bring some comfort to others,' Goralski said. '[This is] very noble of them.'




E-mail: news@ubspectrum.com




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