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UWI for Haiti


On January 12, 2010 a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and its environs. Within 48 hours UWI Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris assembled his Executive Management team to begin coordinating UWI’s response to Haiti. Since the tragedy, the University has assisted Haiti’s reconstruction efforts in a number of ways. As the Caribbean’s leading higher learning institution, the regional influence and the competence of The University of the West Indies is undeniable. As its publics rightfully anticipate, The University will continue to stand for Haiti, owning its obligation to assist the earthquake ravished nation, lending its expertise, spreading awareness and contributing tangibly to the relief efforts as the nation of Haiti begins the rebuilding process.

Immediate relief

Disaster expertise:
In the days immediately after the earthquake, two civil engineers from the UWI Faculty of Engineering at St. Augustine, Dr. Derek Gay and Dr. Richard Clarke, visited Haiti as members of a Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CEDEMA) reconnaissance team. While they operated on the ground in Haiti, more UWI expertise was being pumped into updating the Emergency Response Database compiled by The UWI in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, with particular emphasis being placed on seeking out persons with French and Creole language competencies.

Course in Haitian Creole:
The Jamaica Language Unit (JLU) in the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy at UWI Mona launched a six week Certificate course in Haitian Creole in March 2010. The programme of study in Haitian Creole for Select Interest Groups was designed to assist in the immediate relief efforts in Haiti by bridging the language gap between disaster relief experts and the Haitian population. The course will equip participants with basic proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking Haitian Creole. The first group of participants comprises 36 persons including medical personnel, law enforcement officers and engineers. The JLU has already received numerous requests for training from various relief groups involved in the Haiti relief effort.

Collections and contributions:
Like many other institutions across the region and the world, The University of the West Indies continues to do its part by contributing tangibly to the relief efforts in Haiti. Staff and students across all UWI campuses continue to participate in collection drives for clothing, food items and toiletries, and accounts have been set up to receive contributions:

  • Cave Hill: RBC Savings Account # 0945-2524239
  • Mona: NCB Savings Account # 404141538
  • St. Augustine: Republic Bank Chequing Account # 160135528301
Contributions currently stand at US 12,600 and will be transmitted through an appropriate agency to be used to directly assist Haiti’s displaced.

Medium to Long-term response
UWI has led a series of meetings since February to mobilize the support of Caribbean universities to assist in the medium and long term reconstruction effort in Haiti, with particular emphasis on Haiti’s tertiary education sector. The most impacting however is its hosting of the Association of Universities and Research Institutions of the Caribbean (UNICA)’s Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) on March 15-16, at the UWI St. Augustine Campus. Following the AGM, the Association announced the appointment of UWI Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris as the new President of UNICA. In this new capacity, Professor Harris presented the UNICA Communiqué which outlined the Association’s recommitment to the development of the tertiary education sector in Haiti through:

  • advocacy in national, regional and international fora for financial support for higher education;
  • the development of practical interventions to assist affected Haitian students and faculty;
  • support for capacity building interventions to facilitate sustainable development; and
  • the provision of expertise and experience for reconstruction and development efforts based on the needs articulated by the people of Haiti.

Out of this initiative, a UNICA-Haiti Response taskforce has been established, headed by UWI’s Dr. Mathew Smith of the Department of History and Archaeology, Mona. One of its first courses of action is to develop an action agenda which will be based on interventions proposed by participants during the conference for presentation to national, regional and international organizations.

Public Education
As a calculated part of its response to Haiti and in keeping with its institutional commitment to educate, the University has also been making significant contributions to increasing awareness about the Haiti devastation. One memorable piece coming out of the University was Hate and the Quake a thought provoking commentary by Sir Hilary Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, UWI Cave Hill. Numerous other lectures, presentations and symposia have been hosted across the UWI’s four campuses stimulating thought and discussion on Haiti’s past, present and its future rebuilding.
View UWI Vice Chancellor’s TV interview discussing UNICA and UWI’s response to Haiti.

View photos from the 2010 UNICA conference and annual general meeting.