Haiti benefit gives students opportunity to help

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A little more than 100 St. Thomas students filled the OEC auditorium Friday night for the United for Haiti benefit. The event shared a message of “brotherhood, friendship and hope,” sophomore emcee Sarah Tinsman said.

African Nations’ Student Association (or ANSA) president Brian Osende organized the event that included inspirational performances from the Dance Club, PULSE, Hana, and St. Thomas Gospel Choir, as well as various student musicians and speakers.

“I hope students come out and really look at it as, ‘I lose nothing, and I get to feel great about the whole thing at the end,'” Osende said.

Daniel Wordsworth, president of the American Refugee Committee and recipient of the funds raised by the benefit, spoke about the committee’s efforts in Haiti. The American Refugee Committee set up encampments and makeshift clinics immediately after the earthquake to provide care and shelter for homeless Haitian individuals. The multiple encampments are currently providing aid to more than 10,000 individuals.

St. Thomas geography professor Robert Werner commented on the historical turmoil and political instability that gave rise to the country’s extreme poverty. In addition to the unstable government, Haiti is prone to many natural disasters and land degradation, and there are also few natural resources for exportation, he said. All of these factors contribute to the 80 percent of Haitians living in poverty, according to Werner.

Macalester student Wes Alcenat spoke about his experiences growing up in the slums of Haiti.

“The Haitian life is so hard to imagine,” he said, commenting on the difficulties impoverished Haitian individuals face each day in their search for adequate food, water and shelter. “It is like living hell on Earth, but Haitians keep believing and Haitians keep hoping … Their story is also my story. In solidarity, we can help the Haitian people.”

Sophomore Molly Pichler particularly enjoyed the dance performances.

“PULSE always does such a great job of adding emotion and energy to any show, and just adding that to this amazing benefit is a great thing,” she said. “I loved the UST ‘We Are the World’ song, and just bringing people from all different backgrounds to come together for this great benefit was amazing.”

Other students enjoyed the diversity of the performances.

“I liked how students from all grades collaborated and made something that we can understand,” senior Grace Udeh said. “It was both educational and musical. That was the best part about it.”

Tinsman was impressed with students’ overall willingness to devote time and talent to the benefit.

“All these kids that have never been there, that aren’t from there, they come together because they think it’s a cool, good thing to get involved in,” she said. “Their stories and just having people be there (in Haiti) experiencing it in real life I think is something super powerful.”

Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at omas5009@stthomas.edu.