Students fear for friends in Haiti
Campus organizations set relief goal of $10,000
January 18, 2010 —
News that a massive earthquake had devastated Haiti hit too close to home for SVSU students Hansel Vedrine and Wilnic Georges.
The Haitian natives spent most of their lives in an orphanage in Petionville, a suburb of the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince. After joining millions in attempting to contact their friends and loved ones, the pair learned that the St. Joseph's Home for Boys, the place they called home, had collapsed in Tuesday’s quake.
"My heart dropped," Vedrine said. "I couldn't really speak. It's so devastating."
Their story is one of many that have moved the SVSU community to raise relief funds.
The two recall a place that once echoed with the sounds of drums Georges played for Vedrine's dance troupe. They remember a place where school and chores were supplemented with friendships built around soccer matches and music.
Now, down cell phone towers and Internet connections have frustrated their efforts to contact friends in Haiti.
"I tried after I heard the news to call as many people that I could," Vedrine said. "I kept trying but I haven't been able to communicate with anyone yet."
Vedrine has lived in the U.S. since 2008 with Lynda Varner, a Midland nurse who is simply "mom" to Vedrine. Georges made his move last July to live with Deb Lamberton, also of Midland. The four connected in July 2007 when Varner and Lamberton traveled to Haiti on a missions trip.
"I can't imagine if these boys were still in Haiti," Varner said.
She, too, made every attempt to contact friends, and through a one-minute phone conversation was able to confirm that at least one close friend was safe.
Varner and Vedrine briefly connected with Michel — a resident of St. Joseph's who had located a radio station where he was able to make calls.
Through a poor connection, "I heard yelling, screaming, chaos, car horns, Michel's frantic voice," Varner said.
Only by yelling to be heard clearly, Varner finally got the answer she hoped for: "Yes, Mom. I'm OK."
"That's what he calls me," she said.
"Surprising, shocking, very touching, heartbreaking," are words Vedrine uses to describe the way it felt to connect with Michel, despite the communication interference.
Now, the two students are doing what they can to help the relief, and that means raising funds.
"You can't help everybody, but by giving money you can help take care of the community," Vedrine said. "You can help other people get food and everything they need."
Campus organizations such as the Office of International Programs, Student Life and the Student Association are ready to help spur fundraising efforts. The initial goal is to raise one dollar per each of SVSU's more than 10,000 students.
"Everyone here has experienced the economic crisis," said Ryan Kanine, Student Association, "but [Haiti] is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our struggles can't compare to theirs. To have an earthquake that completely devastates the country on top of that, it really makes us realize why it's important that we give them our support."
At SVSU, Georges dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer and Vendrine plans to achieve a business degree.
"I want to go back to Haiti to help my people in the best way I can," Vedrine said.
Varner has had long-standing plans to return on a missions trip to Haiti at the end of the month.
"But the trip has totally changed from what it was going to be," she said.
Those who wish to donate to relief efforts may do so through the Student Association, the Office of International Programs, or Student Life.