Efforts in Haiti Focus on Sustainability

Friday, July 9, 2010

The catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 called for a response from humanitarian and disaster relief organizations worldwide. In a country about the size of Maryland, over 200,000 people died, 2 million were left homeless and 3 million were in need of food and water.Much of the existing infrastructure including hospitals, schools and businesses lay in ruins. Lives were changed in an instant - homes, families and communities shattered without warning.

Relief efforts formed quickly, directing food, medical supplies and water to distribution centers in key areas. Organizations on the ground mobilized and began rebuilding efforts.

The process of starting over is not new to Haitians. The country has experienced political instability, poverty and hurricanes, and continues to feel the destructive impact of a history of colonization.

More recently, a globalization process has destroyed local agriculture to the benefit of foreign corporations. True to the spirit of the country, however, Haitians have not wasted a moment in organizing responses in rural and urban areas.

“The earthquake set back much of the progress made in the past two years by the government of Haiti and local organizations,” said Dr. Jeannette Diaz-Laplante, assistant professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

Diaz-Laplante has worked on various projects throughout Haiti over the past decade. In July 2009, with Haitian public health workers, community organizations, teachers, nurses and leaders of faith-based institutions, she facilitated the creation of Pwogwam Sante Mantal - a community-based mental health initiative established to deliver culturally appropriate mental health and community wellness programs.

In July 2011, the program will offer its first mental health training, co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology at UWG and the Université Nouvelle Grand Anse.

Through this network and closely affiliated nonprofits, UWG’s students, faculty and staff can participate in volunteer opportunities to promote education, mental health and general health care needs in Haiti.

“The cycle of poverty is widespread in Haiti,” said Diaz-Laplante. “It requires a comprehensive network of support in all areas of daily living.”

The University of West Georgia Foundation Inc. is supporting Pwogwam Sante Mantal and other organizations that seek sustainable projects in education and rural development throughout Haiti. These projects include providing free education to Haitian children and supporting agricultural initiatives.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact Diaz-Laplante at 678-839-0602. To support Haiti through the UWG Foundation, please contact Nicole Worthington at 678-839-4099.