Campus walk-a-thon helps fund literacy efforts in Haiti


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Photo by Lianne Ng |

Students walk from the Douglass Campus Center to the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus Saturday to raise money for updated school supplies in Haiti through N.J.?for Haiti.


Though the earthquake hit Haiti two years ago, devastation from its 7.0 magnitude still lingers. With 316,000 citizens killed and 1.5 million displaced, the country is in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

The Galvanizing and Organizing Youth Activism Project responded to this demand by organizing a walk-a-thon on Saturday. The board donated its profits to N.J. for Haiti to build an academic infrastructure in the hope of improving education in towns like Carrefour, which is near the country’s capital.

“If you have more educated people, they’ll be able to have their opportunities,” said Pratima Ramkissoon, vice president of GOYA. “They’ll be able to make better decisions politically and economically. It’s a wave effect from generation to generation, the more educated you can make the community.”

Around 60 people attended the 5k walk-a-thon, which raised $663.66 with $7 minimum donation requirement — just enough to afford one shipment of school supplies being stored by N.J. for Haiti, which has been active since the earthquake, said Ramkissoon, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.  

“All the medical supplies were sent to Haiti immediately,” Ramkissoon said. “But now … they have just books and uniforms and pencils and papers and all that stuff just sitting there, so we raised money to help them send those donations to Haiti now.”

But there is a problem — most of the books are in English. While it is becoming more widely used after the humanitarian intervention in 2010, most Haitians can only speak French and Creole. The organization, however, is doing all it can to make the books more accessible to Haitian students, said Valeria Edouard, president of GOYA.

“N.J. for Haiti tries to reach out to French publications for translation,” she said. “Sometimes hired local teachers and instructors are even able to translate in the classroom, which is important because sometimes they have as many as 40 to 50 students, and the translation can get lost.”

Samantha Martin, treasurer of GOYA, said the organization was surprised at the amount raised, because they hoped to bring in more from the walk-a-thon. But the important thing is that they got at least one shipment out, which could help advance the educational dynamic, she said.

“The turnout was not as we had expected because there were other events going on,” said Martin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “But we were able to reach our goal.”

The student organization was developed by the Teachers’ Association for the Global Literacy Project to help rectify a growing problem in New Jersey, Ramkissoon said. This reality now inspires them to help local communities by providing services to educational facilities.

“Locally, in New Brunswick, a lot of children are not achieving advanced proficiency on their literacy tests,” she said. “That was one of the reasons the teachers who started the organization were so moved to focus on literacy and try to better help educate the kids locally and globally.”

Edouard said she hopes improving education in the United States will inspire third world countries to do the same, but this goal is a little idealistic.

“As Americans, we pride ourselves in thinking that the rest of the world should follow suit because we have reached this level of power,” Edouard said. “But there’s a lot we can learn from other people.”

The organization plans to send members to Haiti over spring break to do some hands-on volunteering. Students often travel abroad to help out in various developing countries, said Denniston Bonadie, faculty advisor for GOYA.

“The volunteers will work with several school children in orphanages,” he said. “They will be creating a library corner, repainting, putting in some book cases and books, and putting in some chairs. They would actually do something tangible as a gift to the kids.”


By Lisa Berkman

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