One year after a devastating earthquake, UCF’s commitment to recovery efforts in Haiti remains strong.

Led by the volunteer members of Task Force H.O.P.E., numerous projects during the past year – from collecting computer equipment and relief supplies to creating water purification systems and new ways of using mobile technology – have made a significant difference for the millions of people affected by the tragic 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

“There’s still so much work to do, but we’re making incredible progress,” said Dr. Edwidge Crevecoeur-Bryant, a UCF education professor and member of the university’s Task Force H.O.P.E., which stands for “Healing, Outreach, Partnership and Education.”

The task force, established by President John C. Hitt and led by Vice President Al Harms, has shaped the UCF community’s assistance in relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts to help the 1.5 million people left homeless after the earthquake and the thousands who escaped to Central Florida during the past year.

“The earthquake shattered many lives in Haiti and also had a tremendous impact on our local community,” Harms said. “Thanks to the efforts of many dedicated, talented and generous people throughout the university, we are making a positive difference in providing access to education and improving the public health system in Haiti. “

UCF has partnered with many outside organizations to host donation and charity drives, pack meals to help feed children in Haiti, offer “on-the-ground” medical aid, bring in expert speakers and even develop water filtration systems and smart phone technology for Haitian villagers, responders and educators. Many alumni remain active in recovery efforts in the local community and Haiti.

Made up of students, faculty and staff members from across UCF, Task Force H.O.P.E. recently collected more than 100 surplus computer systems from the university to send to the villages of Leogane and Petit Goave in southern Haiti. The computers will give villagers access to the Internet and provide high-school students and adults with opportunities to use them to take literacy and technology classes.

Crevecoeur-Bryant is developing courses in French literature, technology, English and Haitian Creole with technical support from [email protected]

“It’s amazing what we can do when we all so generously work together for the benefit of others,” said Crevecoeur-Bryant, who in from Haiti and is also working with other College of Education professors to establish service-learning projects with UCF and Haitian students.

Keeping the Focus on Haiti

UCF students mobilized quickly last year to provide aid to Haiti and to comfort and support their peers with family members living there. Those efforts have continued throughout 2010 and early 2011.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, student organizations Club Kreyol and the Caribbean Student Association will host a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 12, by the Reflecting Pond outside Millican Hall.

During the past year, a handful of College of Medicine students traveled to Haiti, volunteering on the grounds of the Port-au-Prince Airport hospital, dispensing drugs, handling patient logistics, organizing blood donations and assisting with surgeries.

First-year UCF medical student Anika Mirick led efforts to bring leukemia patient Ginel Thermosey from Haiti to Orlando, where he continues to undergo treatment with help from the local community.

Other student groups, such as the International Medical Outreach chapters at UCF, are planning follow-up trips to Haiti to offer aid and improve public health.

Later this spring, UCF’s EWB group is scheduled to deliver and install water cisterns in Mare Brignol, where villagers must walk up to seven hours each way to find fresh water. The cisterns and sand filtration systems, which were installed during a previous trip, will help prevent water-borne illnesses and provide closer, safer water sources.

Mobilizing Technology

Shortly after the earthquake, Dr. Kevin Meehan, an English professor and the director of UCF’s Haitian Studies Project, teamed up with researchers from UCF’s Institute for Simulation & Training led by Dr. David Metcalf. Their goal is to use cell phones and smart phones to improve agencies’ coordination on the ground and Haitian college students’ access to online classes.

Partnering with the University of Fondwa and the University of Nouvelle Grand’Anse in Haiti, the team presented its preliminary findings late last year to the National Science Foundation, which funded its work.

Meehan has taught long-distance, video-recorded world literature courses to students at the University of Nouvelle Grand’Anse. Metcalf and his team are developing ways that Haitian educators can offer college courses entirely on smart phones while universities continue to reconstruct their buildings and infrastructure.

A brief video about their work is available online.

Continuing Compassion

Jeremy Schurke didn’t expect to find himself in Haiti during last year’s earthquake. The 2008 UCF alumnus had once dreamed of being a “professional adventurer,” maybe chartering yachts in the Pacific.

Instead, he’s the co-founder of Lespwa Means Hope, an organization working to restore Haiti. He was volunteering at an orphanage outside of Port-au-Prince when he felt the ground violently shake. Fortunately, neither he nor the 60 children were injured in the quake. But seeing all the destruction around them made Schurke and several of his best friends stay and help.

For the past year, the Jacksonville native has helped organize other volunteers in Haiti. He’s now working with Mission of Hope, and he toured U.S. universities in the fall, engaging young people with updates from Haiti and ways to get involved with humanitarian efforts.

He’ll be at UCF on Jan. 18 raising money for an agricultural school and farming land in Haiti to help villagers learn new techniques and secure their own food supply.

“All of these experiences have taught me to think less about myself,” Schurke, 25, said. “My own goals and well-being are important, but they’re nothing compared to the gratification of helping other people.”

UCF Helping Haiti

To learn more about Task Force H.O.P.E. and see a listing of events, projects and ways to get involved, visit ucf.edu/haiti.

The Task Force will hold its next meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, in the Provost’s Conference Room, Room 395E in Millican Hall.

Don’t see your project or event mentioned? E-mail Task Force Coordinator Christine Dellert at [email protected] with more information.