COLUMBIA — As MU French professor Valerie Kaussen spoke on the situation in Haiti, the room reflected the sense of community she remembered from her experiences in the country.
Kaussen was in Haiti during the Jan. 12 earthquake that leveled much of the country's capital. She returned to Columbia four days later, and on Friday, about 30 people gathered on couches and folding chairs at the Peace Nook to hear her speak about Haiti's history and relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The Missourian has compiled a list of organizations accepting donations for disaster relief in Haiti. Find it here.
Audience members asked questions and donated $825 to support disaster relief in the country.
Kaussen said that much of Haiti's past contributed to the disaster situation now. She said early French colonial rule and U.S. military occupancy shaped Haiti as a country without a means to sustain itself economically, even before the earthquake hit.
Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, who coordinated Kaussen's talk at the Peace Nook, said he hoped the information would give people a better context for understanding the situation.
"So little attention is being focused on the underlying reasons for the tragedy," Haim said. "I'm hoping this talk will help people to understand why an earthquake of this magnitude would have so much impact on a place like Haiti versus the Bay Area in California."
Kaussen also spoke about her own hopes for the future of the country.
"I hope they get the country they deserve," she said as she discussed the feelings of togetherness and resiliency she's experienced while in Haiti. "I saw nothing but respect and solidarity."
Audience members expressed similar feelings as they listened to Kaussen detail the conditions in Haiti and expressed gratitude to her as an educator.
"Here she is, out educating the rest of us," said Carolyn Sullivan, a local business owner and friend of Kaussen's. "I learned a tremendous amount."
Kaussen said it's important for aid organizations to listen to what Haitians want in the aid and rebuilding process. She works with AVS, the Solino Neighborhood Association, and AVJ, the Jake Neighborhood Association, part of a network of groups in Haiti that particularly support education.*