The University of Iowa

UI Students Talk About Haiti

January 26th, 2010

By Rob Daniel
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Fabienne Bertrand said she remembers experiencing her first earthquake when she was 5 years old and living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“I saw the television coming,” Bertrand told a group of students at Willowwind School on Monday afternoon. “It’s so weak, guys. It lasted a couple of seconds.”

Bertrand, now 30 and a University of Iowa graduate student in civil engineering, was one of four UI students and graduates with family connections to Haiti to speak to the Willowwind students. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean nation Jan. 12, severely damaged the capital city of Port-au-Prince and killing more than 150,000 people.

Matt Ruzek, Willowwind’s head of school, said students at the school had been exploring different ways to help the victims of the earthquake. He said he invited the students through the UI International Programs Center to help put a face to the tragedy for his students.

Bertrand, fellow graduate student Lucy Joseph, and UI graduates Doucette Alvarez and Myrtha Pierre spent about 30 minutes speaking with the students. Although several of the questions focused on the earthquake, the UI students also talked about Haiti’s history and culture and their own stories.

Joseph, in response to a Willowwind student’s question about she got out of Haiti after the earthquake, said she was in Iowa on Jan. 12. She said she was born and raised in Lakewood, Fla., the daughter of Haitian immigrants, including her father who had floated to Florida in a makeshift boat.

“I found out from the television,” said Joseph, 25, about the earthquake.

The Willowwind students also learned about how Haiti is located on a fault line that is prone to earthquakes. In addition, they learned phrases in Creole, a language spoken by a majority of Haitians. While the UI students had family members who were hurt and left homeless, they were confident Port-au-Prince and other affected areas would be rebuilt.

“I think Haiti will learn from other countries,” Bertrand said, referring to earthquake-prone countries such as Japan and Greece and as those from California.

Willowwind students said they appreciated meeting with the Haitian students, who are organizing a collection of medical supplies and food to send to Haiti after Feb. 11.

“I think it’s a good thing our school is helping them,” said fifth-grader Tina Hashemi, 11.

As published to