Students raise funds for Haiti

By Matea Wasend

Westenley Alcenat ’10 feels the effects of the recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti more acutely than most Macalester students. A Haitian native who grew up in Minnesota, Alcenat already counts one relative among the estimated 200,000 killed in the quake. His other relatives in Haiti number among the 1.5 million homeless now living on the streets.”I thought I was removed from the tragedy. I grew up here in the States,” Alcenat said. “I don’t remember the last time I cried, but one morning I was looking at pictures of the earthquake, and I broke down. I’m physically removed from Haiti, but the suffering and pain hit me hard. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.”

Alcenat responded to the quake by creating the Haiti Relief Task Force, a board of seven students that initiated the Haiti Relief Fund to raise money for the devastated country. The fund will be donated through Partners in Health, a non-profit organization that has worked in Haiti for 25 years. The task force’s goal is to raise $10,000 dollars. So far, 51 donors, many of them Macalester students, faculty and staff, have contributed $3,700.

“Even if you’re not from the Caribbean.it’s really about your care for humanity,” said Stephen Snider ’10, a member of the task force and co-chair of the Caribbean Student Alliance.

The task force also invites students to attend a benefit concert in Kagin Ballroom on February 5, which is being organized by the CSA. Students can make a suggested donation to see Macalester groups such as Bodacious, the Sirens, the Trads and Scotch Tape.

Alcenat encouraged students to attend even if they do not make a donation.

“It’s a night to send a message from Macalester that we recognize Haitian strength and courage,” Alcenat said. “They haven’t been forgotten.”

Alcenat and other students from the task force have raised money for Haiti in the past. When Haiti was devastated by hurricanes two years ago, they collected $750, but never found a reliable organization through which to donate the money.

Luisa Paredes ’11, who was involved in the fundraising, was visiting the Dominican Republic when the earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 23. She immediately used the $750 to purchase 6,000 antibiotic tablets, 10,000 painkiller tablets and 41 saline solutions, which the Dominican Republic Red Cross then took into Haiti.

Alcenat said Paredes’ quick response speaks to the generosity of Macalester students as a whole.

“It makes me happy students can be so quick in their generosity,” Alcenat said. “I have all the faith in the world that we can raise a lot of money.”

Alcenat particularly applauded the efforts of Martha Rigby ’13, who designed and is selling “Mac Stands with Haiti” t-shirts to raise money for Partners in Health.

“What motivated me was the scale of suffering in Haiti that I had heard about on the news,” Rigby said. “I didn’t have the capacity to donate thousands of dollars myself, but I figured an efficient fundraiser could produce thousands.”

Both Alcenat and Rigby chose to work through Partners in Health because the organization focuses on especially important in a country where 80% of the residents live in poverty-54% in abject poverty. Alcenat visited Haiti with fellow student Collin Cousins ’10, where they observed local NGO’s and the sanitary conditions for an academic project. Alcenat recalled a country in devastation, even before the destruction of the January quake.

“What I saw in Haiti is that people’s lives and standard of living is moving backwards,” Alcenat said. “It is not a developing country.”

Alcenat described densely populated slums overflowing with sewage, where clean water was next to impossible to come by.

“We brought clean water to one of the largest slum,” Alcenat remembered. “As we drove the water truck up people just flooded the truck.they started fighting over the water.”

The recent quake has awakened a sense of Haitian pride in Alcenat, who said he is reconciling his Haitian heritage with his American upbringing for the first time in his life. In raising money for his home country, Alcenat intends to pass on the kindness that was shown to him as a young child by the lawyer who got him removed from Haiti and adopted by his grandparents.

“I was supposed to be an orphan,” Alcenat said. “I lived where this quake hit. She helped me get out of there-in a way you could say she helped me survive the earthquake. I’m even more driven to do this because of her. I’m a senior and I want to graduate, but I will do anything in my power, even if it hurts my GPA, to help Haiti.”

You can donate to Partners in Health via a credit or debit card online at http://act.pih.org/page/outreach/view/haitiearthquake/MACALESTER. Westenley Alcenat will also accept cash or check donations on behalf of the Haiti Relief Fund. Any questions about donations or PIH can be directed to Alcenat at [email protected]

“Mac Stands with Haiti” t-shirts will go on sale February 3, and will be sold at the benefit concert on February 5. For more information check out the Facebook group, or contact Martha Rigby at [email protected]