Haitian College Students Studying in U.S. Seek Ways to Help
While students across the country are holding fundraisers for Haitian relief, the aftermath of the earthquake is forcing difficult choices on Haitian students in the U.S. Many Haitian students studying in the United States say they feel torn between wanting to return to help their families affected by the earthquake, and concern about the safety of going to Haiti.
"I cannot spend a day without thinking about how I can help [my parents]," said Mario Calixte, 26, a computer science major at Virginia Tech. "Seeing that I am helpless, it's killing me," he said. Calixte's parents lost their home in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake.
Approximately 850 Haitian students attend colleges and universities in the U.S. according to the Institute of International Education. Many students are sending as much money as they can afford back to Haiti to help relatives. Others are considering how they can help rebuild Haiti in the long-term.
Johan Guillaume, 23, a first year medical student from Haiti attending Stanford University, said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that he hopes to use his degree to reform Haiti's health care system.
"The instant I heard about the tragedy, I thought it was my duty to get something done," Guillaume said to the Chronicle. "Not only because I'm a native of Haiti, but because it cost a lot of people's lives and is affecting their health." Guillaume has since been a part of Stanford's massive support effort for Haitian relief, which has raised about $180,000 from some 1,100 donors. Guillaume and other students organized the collection of medical boxes for donation to a hospital in Haiti, and they hope to keep students' attention on Haiti's long-term problems.
But many Haitian college students feel that the best way for them to help their families rebuild in Haiti is by staying in school and obtaining a college degree.
"Unless you have extraordinary skills that are really needed right now, you should stay here and you should get the skills you need to help in the reconstruction," said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
Jennifer Francois, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student from Haiti, echoed that sentiment: "There's nothing in Haiti for a computer science major," she said, "They [would] have to have money to feed me, and they don't have it right now."