Harvey Koo (Hong-Kong, AC 09-11)
The earthquakes in Haiti claimed between 100,000 to 200,000 lives, according to the president of Haiti Rene Preval, and left over 1.5 million homeless. Regardless of where the actual casualty number lies on this spectrum, these earthquakes are a legitimate disaster. The aftermath? An entire world reeling in its debris.
So while international bodies and NGOs scramble to provide all the aid they could muster, a similar campaign was launched in UWCs all over the world. In Atlantic College for example, the response was also lightning quick. Within two weeks, I found myself pacing along the streets of a nearby community raising funds. Indeed, everywhere I looked; students traded perennial college clothing of hoodies, of sweaters and jackets and changed into fluorescent yellow security vests in hopes of attracting more attention. And even then our efforts were easily matched by the altruism that people generally have. Raising money for Haiti was surprisingly easy. In retrospect, had I not experienced this event myself, I would have missed groups of people dropping coins and notes – seemingly without much hesitation at all. However, the thing that stands out most for me personally was seeing my roommate among this munificent crowd. Never mind the fact that he has worried all week about an impending deadline on his World Literature, in his words, ‘Yes, it’s due tomorrow, but now I need to do something else.’ This ardor is one of many examples that explain the privilege I often feel being a part of Atlantic College.
All in all, forty students raised over two thousand pounds in one day. ‘You should always do what’s in your power to contribute, even if it’s a little.’ said Ingvill and Anette, two students who organized the event, as I caught up to them after the event. Work was also done in other UWCs. In UWC Costa Rica, the nearest UWC to Haiti, students performed in the largest mall in Costa Rica and asked for donations. Students in Simon Bolivar UWC of Agriculture went to the nearest town to ask for donations in each store. They raised over 40 boxes of clothes. 4 boxes of medicine and medical supplies, 30 boxes of food, 500 bottles of water and 1500 USD cash. LPC UWC in Hong Kong also raised over 1400 USD in campus.
There we were, doing everything we could to make a difference. But are our efforts mirrored by those chosen to lead us? On paper it certainly looks extremely promising: a $100 million interest-free loan was granted to Haiti in an emergency conference held in Montreal by a group of government officials calling themselves the Friends of Haiti. Yet tucked beneath this statistic also lies three worrying facts. One, despite urges from aid organizations around the world, the same countries who agreed to the loan were also adamant in their refusal to cancel any of Haiti’s $900 million loan. The way I see it, that is certainly a formidable task for any country to service that debt, barring the fact the country in question just took two 7.0 earthquakes head on. Two, many observers have suggested that to rebuild Haiti, nothing less than $10 billion would be required. Hence the sum is grossly insufficient.
But perhaps the most startling thing was that a mere few days later the United States decided to pay $85bn in buying toxic assets in order to bail out the insurance company AIG. As put aptly by the Guardian, ‘It is an obscene reminder that, in the world of global capital, distressed assets are still more valued than distressed people.’ Make that 85 times more valuable.
Perhaps this is just a small reminder that there is yet work to be done, not only in Haiti, but around the world.
-United World College Student Magazine-