Rallying Support for Haiti in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew

“I am at a loss for words over the devastation,” writes volunteer Molly Bode ’09.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which left at least 1,000 dead in Haiti and ravaged the country’s southwestern peninsula, members of the Dartmouth community who have studied and worked in Haiti are urging a timely, compassionate response. They’re holding a meeting this Friday to plan strategy and solicit campus-wide support.

“We need to raise money now for hurricane relief, as we did after the earthquake a few years ago. But we also have to invest academic capital in improving longer term outcomes for Haiti,” says Peter Wright, a professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine.

Wright has traveled to Haiti many times over the past 30 years, helping to upgrade health care and combat infectious disease, especially among children. The hurricane, he says, struck at a terrible time for a country already in economic crisis and political upheaval, but he believes the recent catastrophe will reignite humanitarian action.

Architect Jack Wilson shares that hope. A senior lecturer in studio art and at Thayer School of Engineering, Wilson spearheaded the “$300 House Challenge,”a project inspired by a blog post from Vijay Govindarajan, the Coxe Distinguished Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business. The $300 House Challenge design workshop spawned prototypes for affordable housing in Haiti after the earthquake. Shuttling back and forth between the Caribbean nation and Hanover, Wilson has seen countless aid organizations try—and sometimes fail—to bring about change.

“Haiti has been called the graveyard of good intentions,” notes Wilson. But he says successful projects have grown from the Porter Symposium, a three-day gathering of representatives from Haiti and Dartmouth in 2013. Since then, College groups, including Geisel’s Center for Health Equity, The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, and Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, have formed ongoing alliances with several Haitian institutions and agencies. A primary partner is the St. Boniface Foundation, which is now providing medical care and aid to the most vulnerable people in hard-hit southern Haiti.

Over the past week, emails and phone calls have been flying among members of the Dartmouth community with close ties to Haiti. For example, Annie Saunders ’12, Thayer ’13, who, as an engineering student, helped design a water distribution system for southern Haiti’s Fond des Blancs, is now living there and working for the Boston-based Build Health International on planning and infrastructure projects. Molly Bode ’09, who was a leader in the College’s response to the 2010 earthquake, is a U.S.- based volunteer for the St. Boniface Foundation, helping to coordinate relief efforts, and she’s in daily contact with aid workers in Haiti. “I am at a loss for words over the devastation,” she says. About the town of Les Anglais, where she says only 2 percent of the homes remain standing, Bode says that 179 deaths and 700 injuries have been reported so far. And, she says, many other towns hit by the hurricane are in similar straits.

Chelsey Kivland is a newly appointed assistant professor of anthropology and former Dartmouth postdoc who lived in Haiti while doing field research. She hopes donations will go quickly and directly to Haitian rescue organizations struggling to feed, clothe, and shelter people who have lost everything, including their agricultural livelihoods.

“There are already are people dying from cholera,” says Kivland. “So food security and health care will be major priorities.”

Kivland believes people living outside of Haiti can be most helpful by identifying and supporting strong partners already there. Too often, she says, aid agencies rush into devastated nations, straining transportation and lodging to set up their own offices. She says it’s better to support local institutions that have grassroots knowledge and ready-made connections to the neediest people. 

Kivland is confident that Dartmouth will continue the work it has been doing in Haiti, with increased urgency, and that students will be actively involved. 

“Dartmouth students have shown, after the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, a real sense of urgency and concern for others in the world,” she says.

The entire College has demonstrated that it can answer a call to action quickly. Only five days after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Dartmouth sent seven medical teams to the battered nation. During the following year, Dartmouth students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, with Upper Valley residents, donated over $1.5 million and more than 40 tons of in-kind medical supplies.

The Haiti Working Group is hoping to galvanize the community again. The first planning meeting will be held Friday, Oct. 14, in 125 Haldeman at 3:30 p.m.