MU professor in Haiti during quake reflects on the experience

Friday, January 22, 2010 | 10:49 p.m. CST; updated 5:27 p.m. CST, Monday, January 25, 2010
Valerie Kaussen, an MU French professor, and Archie Blumhorst discuss the economic status of Haiti after Kaussen spoke to an overflowing room about Haiti's poor conditions during a talk at the Peace Nook on Friday.

* CORRECTION: Valerie Kaussen works with AVS, the Solino Neighborhood Association, and AVJ, the Jake Neighborhood Association. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the organizations with which she works.

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.

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.*

She recommended people give to reputable organizations with a strong presence in Haiti, including the Lambi Fund of Haiti and the Honor and Respect Foundation.

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Ray Shapiro January 23, 2010 | 10:21 p.m.

Unlike Katrina, where many sat still waiting for someone from neighboring states to come and evacuate them from impending doom, Haiti is on an isolated island and was hit with a massive earthquake and had initially only its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.
(California would have nearby aid from America's infrastructure and is already built up to withstand earthquakes.)
Also, I am seeing some looting and crimes being covered by the US media, but mostly well mannered, self-reliant and a people with good survival skills being demonstrated by the majority of the Haitian people.
One aspect which I believe is the Haitian people's biggest asset has to do with their spirituality and religious beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church in Haiti is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, the curia in Rome and the Conference of Haitian Bishops.
There are over 10.5 million Catholics in Haiti - about 80% of the total population. I believe this is their saving grace.

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