The UC Haiti Initiative (UCHI), a program started in response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country in 2010, was awarded the 2012 UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership during the UC regents May 16 meeting in Sacramento.
UCHI was specifically recognized for “brokering peer-to-peer projects developed in collaboration with the Universite d’Etat d’Haiti (UEH), the state university in Haiti.”
The partnership allowed UC and UEH students to collaborate on important issues facing the nation. “Through this approach, UCHI successfully leverages the aggregate talent and resources of all University of California campuses into a bilateral partnership with the UEH community,” stated a press release by the UC Office of the President. The program seeks to help improve conditions in Haiti by providing novel solutions to the country’s problems—both those that were created by the earthquake and those that existed long before it.
“Many issues and problems plagued [Haiti] even before the earthquake. We are naturally inclined to be ignorant and care about ourselves only…This culture needs to be changed, and it starts by changing the mentality within us,” stated Mohannand Awadalla, UCHI’s Riverside Chapter Director.
UCHI was started in 2010, the same year that the UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership began. The UCHI has become a fixture on all 10 UC campuses and consists of a collaborative effort by faculty, students and staff. UCHI co-founders Nicolas Pascal and Noah Stern received their award during the May 16 UC regents meeting in Sacramento.
Awadalla explained that the program was centered on a two-pronged approach: promoting higher education and sustainable development. “Students in Haiti are experiencing difficulty in completing their thesis; without completing their thesis, their degrees are incomplete,” stated Awadalla in an interview with the Highlander. “With an effort to assist our Haitian counterparts with this endeavor, we would like to partner them up with a UCR graduate student in a mentor-mentee collaboration.”
In the field of sustainable development, Awadalla explained that several projects are underway to help promote more efficient practices in Haiti; one of the projects involves rebuilding an orphanage with better infrastructure. Although not related to higher education or sustainable development, another beneficial program included the creation of a micro-finance lending project that would “lend [and] raise funds via fundraisers to sponsor Haitians who would like to start a business. UCHI would provide with them with the business expertise on our respective campuses,” stated Awadalla.
Awadalla gave his own reasons on why UCHI has been effective and what sets it apart from other groups. “Most [philanthropic] organizations do not have a very clear vision for sustainability. I feel, however, that this problem has been addressed with [UCHI]. The solution presented by the Haiti Initiative is to directly involve college students at the state university of Haiti in Port Au Prince (UEH),” stated Awadalla. “The future of the country is in the hands of these students. If we develop project ideas and revolve those assignments around educated, young students we can produce positive outcomes via sustainable development.”