For its one-year coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, the Orlando Sentinel featured UCF professor Dr. Edwidge Crevecoeur-Bryant and graduates of the Department of Public Administration’s Master of Nonprofit Management Julie Colombino, ’08, and Gretchen Kerr, ’07.

Learn more about the UCF community’s other efforts to help Haiti from Task Force H.O.P.E.

Read the Sentinel’s story below.

In the year since the earthquake in Haiti prompted an outpouring of food, clothing, money and volunteers from Central Florida, efforts have shifted from disaster relief to sustainable recovery. While the basics of survival — food, clothing and shelter — remain an issue for Haiti’s population, many local churches, organizations and individuals are now concentrating on jobs, education and health care. Here are the stories of three Central Floridians who remain committed to Haiti’s recovery, one year later.

Julie Colombino

Beginning in August 2010, Julie Colombino and her nonprofit partner Kim Reidelbach created jobs for seven Haitians making sandals from tires. The paychecks for those seven people support 18 adults and 55 children. In 2011, Colombino plans to employ 20 people in making sandals, open a community and education center, and start an agricultural training program — all aimed at assisting Haitians in developing self-sustaining skills.

“We believe that the key to Haiti’s recovery lies in the empowerment of its citizenry,” said Colombino, 31, in an e-mail from Haiti. “We support the empowerment of Haitian individuals and families through the provision of living-wage employment, technical training, and education.”

Colombino said the creation of even a small number of jobs has been difficult in a nation that was still digging itself out of the rubble and a labyrinth of government bureaucracy.

“Every day I must run around and battle a system that is just trying to stay above water. This exhausts me,” said Colombino, founder of the Orlando-based REBUILD Globally! nonprofit. “If I have electricity and Internet, I consider it a good day.”

But even as she deals with her own frustrations, Colombino is learning from the Haitian people what it means to face adversity with resiliency and determination.

“For an entire year, people have spent a majority of their day picking up and moving rubble in hopes to clear enough space to put up a tent,” she said. “It is my hope that we can learn from the people of Haiti and work alongside them to create opportunities.”


Edwidge Crevecoeur-Bryant

When Edwidge Crevecoeur-Bryant talked to her siblings back home in Haiti, they told her people were asking for something more than surplus T-shirts, canned food and tents. They wanted something that gave them a reason to believe there was a better day ahead.

“They kept hearing the same thing around May or June: We don’t want any more clothes. We need jobs. We need things to help ourselves. We need things that give us hope for the future,” said Crevecoeur-Bryant, a Haitian-born education teacher at the University of Central Florida.

The result was the “Computer Project,” conceived by Crevecoeur-Bryant and another faculty member, Bob Russo, then carried out through the university’s task force for Haitian assistance.

Now more than 100 surplus computers and laptops donated by departments at UCF are in Haiti where they will be the key to two community learning centers. Volunteer instructors from UCF will conduct on-line classes for students trying to learn English and adults wanting to become literate in Haitian Creole.

Crevecoeur-Bryant said the desire for education, and the technology that can provide it, satisfies a different kind of hunger in Haiti. The adults who crave to become literate in their language, the children who want so badly to learn English and computer skills, now define survival not as something that keeps you alive, but something that gives you a reason to live.

“I think providing technology to Haiti is a huge step,” she said. “The computers give you a sense of the future and the future gives you a sense of hope.”

Gretchen Kerr

It’s been May since Gretchen Kerr has been back to Haiti with the disaster response teams for Northland, A Church Distributed. But the images of her five trips to the island in the aftermath of the earthquake still have an effect on her. Experiencing the disaster first-hand — the loss of life, the suffering of the survivors, the vulnerability of brick and mortar, flesh and blood — has altered the way she looks at things back in Florida.

“Things just look different when you see everything collapsed,” Kerr said.

She also feels an immediate empathy with anyone she meets from Haiti: the cab driver, the waiter, the teacher, the student. The earthquake enlightened Kerr, as it did many Americans, to the country and its people in a way not possible before.

“It’s really amazing the connection I now feel with anyone I run into from Haiti. That never would have happened if I didn’t have that experience,” she said.

Kerr and her team from Northland were preparing to return to Haiti in December to help build new housing, but political unrest closed the nation to outsiders. The relief organization that hosted them has remained in Haiti.

ACTS World Relief — like Julie Colombino’s REBUILD Globally and UCF’s Computer Project — is focused on helping Haiti prepare for its future, beyond relief and recovery. The Florida-based organization has taken over the responsibility for an orphanage with plans to build a pediatrics hospital that will become a teaching center for doctors and nurses. It is building on what the Northland volunteers started — training Haitian college students to provide rudimentary medical care and basic nutrition. The future health and employment of Haiti may be as obvious as teaching Haitians how to grow and eat vegetables, said David Canther, ACTS president.

The Haitian diet, Canther said, consists mainly of pork and chicken, which can spoil and cause sickness. The soil in Haiti is perfect for growing vegetables, but vegetables have never been a staple of the Haitian diet.

“They have to be trained to eat differently, how to cook differently,” Canther said.

The earthquake did more than uncover the instability of the land beneath the buildings. It showed the world the inherent weakness of the nation’s economy, government and way of life. The future success of Haiti will depend on Haitians learning to do things differently, Canther said.

“Haiti is way too big for any of us. It’s not dumping a billion dollars in their lap,” Canther said. “You have to get to the point of changing the mentality to make a difference. Poor Haiti hasn’t been taught to think and make decisions.”

The good news for the future of Haiti, one year after the disaster, is that Haitians seem eager to participate in their own recovery, given the opportunity to learn, earn and change.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, One year after devastating quake, Central Floridians still contributing to Haiti’s recovery, by Jeff Kunerth, Jan. 11, 2011