In the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, many in the University community are looking to participate in relief efforts. But with the country still in ruins, many students and faculty may have to wait before they can travel to the country to help.
Before the earthquake hit, members of Ann Arbor’s New Life Church had been planning to travel to Haiti for an alternative spring break trip.
University alum Karl Jansen was to co-lead the group of 16, in conjunction with Rain Catchers — a non-profit organization based in Howell, Mich. that builds gutters on Haitian homes in order to collect rainwater.
The group was planning to go to the village of Seguin in the mountains of southeastern Haiti, according to Jansen.
But now that the earthquake has left the nation in chaos with many devastating problems, Jansen said the trip must be postponed.
“After the earthquake, we were hoping to go down there and do earthquake relief, but there is just too many logistical challenges and safety challenges right now,” he said. “They just need emergency responders and professionals to get things under control before volunteers like our group would be able to go down there and help.”
Sara Gibbs, director of the Ginsberg Center’s SERVE program — a University group that organizes various community service projects including alternative spring break trips — said it hopes to plan a trip to Haiti sometime soon, though not in the immediate future due to safety concerns.
“We are confident that there will be a time in the next few years when we can organize a service trip to Haiti,” she said.
And as the death toll in Haiti reaches 200,000, according to The Associated Press, University administrators are cautioning students from traveling to the country.
In an e-mail sent to the University community yesterday, University Provost Teresa Sullivan and Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper cautioned students against going to Haiti right now.
Undergraduate students are prohibited from traveling to the country through University programming, though graduate and professional students may do so if they have “specific professional experience and qualifications,” Sullivan and Harper wrote in the e-mail.
The administrators cited insufficient modes of communication and travel and a limited amount of resources as the primary reasons why students should avoid travel to the country.
“Because of the severity of conditions in Haiti, and in accordance with the University’s international travel policy, no undergraduate student may travel to Haiti with University resources or under University auspices until conditions improve,” they wrote in the e-mail.
Student organizations involved in raising money for the relief effort like the Michigan Haiti Earthquake Action Relief Team — a group formed by Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs to unite campus relief efforts — have also advised against traveling to the nation in crisis.
“Though intentions are good, and M-HEART is not recommending anyone to turn your back on the country at this time, M-HEART recommends people to really re-think plans to go to Haiti at this time,” Felix Lopez, LSA junior and a member of M-HEART, wrote in an e-mail interview.
The School of Public Health also recently issued a news release citing the dangers of traveling to Haiti as well, and recommended only traveling to Haiti with a larger organization.
“Volunteers need food, water, shelter, and orientation to aid facilities, and this hinders relief efforts already underway,” the news release states.