Haiti class hones in on disaster


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When Maureen McCue began planning a UI class on Haiti in July 2009, she knew eventually traveling to the poverty-stricken country would be a powerful experience.

But the trip took on a much greater meaning after a Jan. 12 earthquake hit the country.

“We basically received clearance to go the night before the earthquake,” said McCue, a UI adjunct assistant professor in International Programs and coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility.

At least 200,000 Haitians died in the 7.0 magnitude temblor, and countless others were injured. The natural disaster also severely damaged thousands of buildings and structures.

According to UNICEF, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. UI senior Blake Ray, a member of the class, said Haiti needed help long before the disaster.

“Disasters are foretold,” McCue said. “Haiti did not have the infrastructure, or heath care, to deal with something like this.”

She visited Haiti in 2005 with a small group of UI students.

Originally, she was planning on taking her students this semester to the country over spring break.
The class will instead visit the country closer to the end of second semester. They’ll travel to the city of Jacmel, located southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Visiting the country too soon after the earthquake would simply contribute to the confusion, because neither she nor the students have immediate disaster-response skills, McCue said.

She primarily wants to help in the relief effort, she said, but she expects the class to be a beneficial learning experience for the students.

“How can we use Haiti as an example of the challenges of health around the world?” McCue asked the class of 11 students at Monday evening’s session. “How can we start thinking of ourselves as a global family?”

McCue’s original trip proposal involved the class traveling to various places around the country, learning about the culture and history while also providing relief. But the group has decided to focus its efforts in a smaller area, because the disaster has made travel inside the country difficult and dangerous.

The students have various backgrounds in global health, and McCue estimated eight or nine of them will go on the trip.

McCue said she doesn’t have concrete plans for their efforts yet, but she’s been in contact with some Haitians for years and will coordinate with them.

“We hope to contribute to some long lasting effects,” class member and UI senior Megan Hart said. “To help return these people to normalcy.”

Once they decide what specifically their relief efforts will involve, members of the class will begin fundraising to help pay for various aspects of the trip. Until then, McCue said, she remains optimistic about efforts to help the country.

“What you don’t get from these stories is that Haiti is a beautiful country,” she said. “I’m hopeful that they will be able to restart and go in a better direction.”

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