As the Red Cross speculates that up to 50,000 people may have died in the Tuesday earthquake in Haiti, colleges across the country have begun tracking down students, staff, and faculty members who are studying or conducting research on the devastated island.
Several schools had already been able to locate their students and employees. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has reported that the two student groups who were studying in Haiti were safe and accounted for. One group was about 70 miles north of the capital with the organization Engineers Without Borders as part of a project to build a small hydroelectric plant. The second group was there as part of the Haiti Project, doing electrical work and working on bringing Internet connections to a small mountain village. A dean from Maryville University is safe and writing a blog about the situation. Four people from Virginia's Blue Ridge Community College who had traveled to Haiti as part of a program through the nonprofit SIFE, which works to build socially responsible business leaders, were safe following a full day of emailing and phone calls by administrators. Two students and a faculty member from Taylor University were also reported safe; the students were there working with Radio Lumiere, a Christian radio station.
Others were still looking to make contact in a country where it has become increasingly difficult to reach people, or even send aid. Administrators at Lynn University are still waiting for word about whether six of the 12 members of a group that arrived in Haiti hours before the earthquake hit are safe. The group was on a humanitarian mission. The University of Florida has not been able to make contact with two graduate students who went to Haiti to work on a documentary about building a school there. Two faculty members from that school working on a grant through the U.S. Agency for International Development were safe and accounted for.
If you feel helpless and want to do something, consider contacting the American Red Cross about a donation. The organization has already raised more than $800,000 for Haiti through its online and text messaging campaign - people can text "Haiti" to 90999 to send an automatic $10 donation to the Red Cross, an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. (Your donation will appear on your next phone bill, and all cell phone carriers are participating in the program.)
If the news has made you more aware of countries in need, there are a lot of things you can do both abroad and closer to home, and many alternatives to employment for college graduates looking to make a difference. Interested in education? Consider Teach for America, a program that offers a stipend and teacher certification in exchange for a commitment of one or two years teaching in a high-needs school. Often, students are eligible for loan deferment or forgiveness programs if they consider programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. Looking for something more short-term? Organizations like Habitat for Humanity work with student-led projects that have done quite a bit of difference in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Such programs don't just build character and help people, either - they're also good for your resume. So if you're interested, there's no time like now to sign up and help out, even if you just do some community service in your neighborhood.