Feb 082010
Authors: Justyna Tomtas

Faced with thousands of students armed with spare cash and good intentions, ethnic studies professor Ernesto Sagás hoped to lend some perspective on Haiti’s history, which he described as “forged with fire and paid with blood.”

And armed with the knowledge of Haiti’s history, Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement, which hosted the information meeting Monday, hopes students and faculty will be better able to channel their efforts to boost fundraising and aid efforts.

“Haiti was victimized long before the earthquake,” said Jen Johnson, assistant director of SLiCE. “Many feel the desire to act because of the earthquake, but the truth is that there were numerous problems before the quake happened which contributed to the devastation being experienced now.”

Originally a French slave colony, the independent nation of Haiti was born from a bloody revolt that rejected not only French rule but all things European.

“They cut heads off and burned houses down. Hundreds and thousands of slaves threw off their chains and fought anything that reminded them of slavery. Be it white people, plantations or French technology,” Sagás said.

After attaining independence but destroying the nation’s entire infrastructure, the Haitian people were faced with the task of building a nation from a scratch, ­a task that left them with a slipshod governmental system wholly unprepared to survive in a competitive global economy even before January’s earthquake.

Like many of the world’s poor nations, Haiti has become a haven for companies seeking cheap labor, said Norberto Valdez, a CSU ethnic studies professor.
“They desperately need our help at this moment,” Valdez said. “But we can also do something geared toward a long term strategy.”

Valdez said the minimum wage in Haiti is $1.76 a day, about 22 cents an hour, explaining that capitalist countries try to exploit the Haitian workers at slavery wages.

He encouraged those present to shop carefully, choosing fair-trade items whenever possible.

”We need to recognize what we buy and the direct connection it has to the Haitian people,” Valdez said.

For those students hoping to contribute directly to the Haitian people, the speakers echoed aid groups’ cries for cash donations.

“Clothing drives are about the worst thing a person can do. They are labor intensive, it costs a lot of money to ship clothing, and it requires that clothing be sorted upon arrival in Haiti,” Johnson said. “In fact, in many cases, clothes just end up in landfills.”

Clothing drives also prevent the stimulation of the local Haitian economy because people stop buying clothes from local vendors.

“Even if a person intends to do something positive by collecting clothes, they actually may have a negative impact,” Johnson said.

The Center for International Disaster Information urges Americans to send cash donations to best aid the victims of quake.

But donating money to charities may also be tricky. Charity Navigator makes it easy to find a good charity by providing evaluations of nonprofits based on the type of work they do.

To evaluate a nonprofit go to http://www.charitynavigator.org.

Staff writer Justyna Tomtas can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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