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Duke University Introduces New Course to Assist in Haiti Recovery

January 29, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

Duke University professor Deborah C. Jenson wasted little time deciding how to get academia involved following the recent earthquake in Haiti. She developed a new course for the school called "Haitian Creole for the Haitian Recovery" that aims to help undergraduates, health-care practitioners, and engineers get involved in relief and rebuilding efforts by teaching them about the country's language and culture. Less than two weeks after the earthquake, a group of students from all different backgrounds - history, forestry, and political science majors, for example - were already meeting and discussing how their unique skill sets could contribute to rebuilding Haiti.

The course also includes a basic introduction on how to navigate Haiti as someone who joins the relief effort, from getting around to pinpointing exactly the parts of Haiti that were most affected by the earthquake. Jenson came to the idea almost immediately after the disaster. She met with students from the Haitian Student Alliance and her Creole classes, and knew exactly what the relief effort would need to be successful and lasting: cultural sensitivity.

In an interview with Jenson in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, she describes the projects already taking form as a result of her students' need to help, such as a prosthetics drives and an initiative to help HIV-positive orphans. Others are in the class so that they can become effective communicators before going on humanitarian missions to Haiti. Jenson said in the interview that because it is obvious rebuilding efforts will continue for many years to come, Duke will probably offer the course in subsequent semesters.

Colleges and organizations across the country continue to look for ways to use their resources and personnel to make a difference in Haiti. The Institute of International Education created an emergency grants program to help students from Haiti on American campuses who have been affected by the earthquake. Accredited campuses are able to nominate up to five students at their institutions for the $2,000 grants. Lynn University established a fund to assist members of their community whose lives the earthquake impacted. The school was rocked recently by news that the four students and two faculty members who went missing after the earthquake were presumed dead. The group was there on a service learning trip.

If you're still looking for ways to help, contact your university. Colleges have become an excellent source for students interested in joining the relief effort. Or consider getting involved in community service projects closer to home. There's never a shortage of service or volunteer projects wherever you may be.


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