Jan 26, 2010

Helping Haiti

by Melinda Zosh

Dormay is a Haitian native and did not expect a 7.0 earthquake to strike her hometown of Port-au-Prince Jan. 12.

Dormay lost all her financial resources. Since she is an international student, and she cannot work off campus. She is allowed to work on campus for a maximum of 18 hours per week, she said.

“(Our) parents in Haiti are the people that provide for us,” Dormay said. “Money comes from back home to pay for the apartments.”
Liberty university officials stepped in to help the 17 Haitian students on visas, according to Vice President for Executive Projects and Media Relations and Campus Pastor Johnnie Moore. He sent e-mails to each student and started a phone bank immediately after the tragedy.

“Within a few hours of the Haitian tragedy, Liberty immediately began an exhaustive effort to do everything we could to locate our own Haitian community,” Moore said. “We began to collect very specific information so that we knew how to help.”

Dean of International Students William Wegert said that his goal is to meet the students’ immediate needs and to take an “individual assessment” of each student’s situation. He wanted to make sure that they were “in class and eating.” Three percent of the 900 Haitian students on visas study at Liberty, according to Wegert.
Senior Student Care Pastor Dane Emerick held a prayer meeting and gave support to the Haitian students immediately after he heard about the earthquake.

“The feeling is usually not to talk. The kids opened up and started sharing prayer requests,” Emerick said. “To surround the students, give them a hug is (best for them).”

Moore said that the administration has been working “aggressively” to assist the students.

Executive Director of Financial Aid Rob Ritz helped in distributing one-time emergency aid. He worked with Assistant Director of International Student Services David Moore, who met with Haitian students throughout the week.

“We have worked with the (International Student Center) office and dispersed almost $30,000 worth of aid,” Ritz said, adding that students’ old balances had been cleared. “(We also gave) on campus meal plans for students who are off campus.”

Even though Dormay now has textbooks, fully paid tuition and $500 worth of meal points, her life is still upside down. Her parents now live in the U.S., but their business in Haiti was destroyed. And her cousins, one of whom worked in the United Nations building in Haiti, were missing.

“I took care of the other Haitians who were here,” Dormay, a religious education and pastoral counseling major said. “I tried to keep my mind away from my own problems.”

Just as she was beginning to heal, a second 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Thursday, and she learned that her aunt was killed in that earthquake.

“I started crying (and thought) ‘Lord, what just happened?’” Dormay said. “I knew the Lord had a reason. I had to trust him no matter what.”

Liberty is seeking to assist Port-au-Prince by placing students there this summer or next fall, according to Moore.

“Christ cares for these people, and we are his hands and feet,” Moore said. “LU will not leave this nation orphaned. We cannot do everything, but we can do something.”

Wegert said that he is “impressed with the way the Haitian students have looked to the Lord with strength.” They are torn between wanting to go back to their country and staying here, he said.

“I try to help them see that the best thing for them to do is to stay here … this semester and do the best they can,” Wegert said. “The goal is for them to become leaders in their country … and realizing that God has them here for a purpose.”

Junior Benny Voltaire’s uncle, who lives in Florida, called and told him the bad news. Even though he lives in northern Haiti, he says that everyone knows someone who lives in Port-au-Prince.
“I’m not any better than those who died in the earthquake,” Voltaire said. “If I live today (it is because), God has a purpose for me.”

Voltaire, who is double majoring in finance and economics, said that his friends cannot sleep at night because of the images that they have seen on the streets.

“We are tough people. We are resilient,” Voltaire said. “The situation is hard, (but) we need to be tougher than ever right now.”
Liberty alumna Vastille Edma (’09) said that she did not hear from her family for two days. She learned that several of her cousins are dead, and he old school is gone.

“I immediately thought about my family,” Edma said. “I was hoping they were still alive. They called for two minutes, but it was the best two minutes. I was happy but at the same time (I was) sad.”
Dormay said that she is still in the denial phase and feels “helpless.” If she went back to Haiti at this point, she would be in the same situation as everyone else, on the streets.

“I know that (God’s) promise will never end,” Dormay said. “My whole picture doesn’t compare to God’s whole picture. Nothing ever happened without a purpose. If the Lord let it happen, there is a reason. That is good enough.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at

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