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At Penn Law's Forum on Haiti, Glimpses of Post-quake Conditions and Visions for Recovery

March 12, 2010
From Left: Aldo Magazzeni (Traveling Mercies), Christiaan Morssink (United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia), Ayana Harry (ABC News), and Sarah Paoletti (Penn Law)
Speakers recounted visits to Haiti in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in January, as well as their visions for how to rebuild the country, at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s “Forum on Haiti: Relief, Recovery, and Aid” on Feb. 22.
Penn Law Lecturer and Clinical Supervisor Sarah Paoletti moderated the panel, which was co-sponsored by the Penn Law Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Penn Law International Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) and Penn Law for Haiti, a collaboration of students and staff that has raised and donated over $5000 to organizations working on the ground in Haiti. 
The challenge facing the international community, Paoletti said, was how to contribute to the Haiti relief effort in a way that is mindful of Haiti’s history and avoids a paternalistic attitude toward the country.
Each speaker presented a unique glimpse at the crisis. ABC News Associate Producer Ayana Harry traveled to Haiti immediately after the earthquake and stayed there for one month, reporting on the progress of the aid effort. Harry and her news team caught extraordinary glimpses of the scope of the devastation wreaked by the earthquake. At one remote Red Cross clinic, she saw a girl whose toe was being amputated without medication because there was no way to get medical supplies to the clinic. She met dozens of Haitians afraid of being indoors, and realized that the earthquake had “transformed the way people thought about shelter.”
Harry also witnessed the opposite face of the crisis: the remarkable hope of the Haitian people. One man she met was convinced his brother had survived the collapse of a large building, and enlisted the help of a Greek search-and-rescue team to dig him out, alive. The surviving students of Haiti’s leading music school salvaged the instruments they could and performed a concert at a tent camp.
Christiaan Morssink, president of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia, emphasized the unprecedented global response to the disaster. The UN called for $1.5 billion in aid to Haiti, which was, Morssink reminded the audience, its largest request ever. “We are experiencing international empathy — something we couldn’t have imagined a few decades ago,” he said.
As for ordinary Americans who wish to mitigate the current situation in Haiti, Morssink said, he hopes to see them form “corps of volunteers” and not only help rebuild Haiti, but also reevaluate U.S. relations with the country.
One volunteer who has already started working toward both goals is Aldo Magazzeni, the third panelist and the founder and director of Traveling Mercies, a non-profit relief foundation. Magazzeni spent two weeks in Haiti after the earthquake, working with local communities to bring people food and rebuild basic infrastructure, such as wells and medical centers, in areas where communities of displaced people are forming. “If we can build something permanent that gives them an idea of why they should remain in that particular area, then we’ve done something good,” Magazzeni said.
Magazzeni also reiterated Morssink’s call for a huge international volunteer corps, pointing out that foreign corporations and donations alone can’t truly revive the nation. “If we want Haiti to be a better country, we need to decide as communities to be involved,” said Magazzeni. “There has to be a commitment of at least three generations to fix this.”