Hoops for Haiti fosters community, raises money

Proceeds from the students vs. faculty-staff game go to the Brandeis Haiti Initiative

Brandeis Haiti Initiative faculty advisor Jane Hale, center, attends last year's Hoops for Haiti game with students.

Students may have lost last year's Hoops for Haiti game to the faculty-staff team, but they continue to win respect for their fundraising work.

On Monday, they'll have another shot to win on the court, too, and the community will have another opportunity to support the games' organizer, the Brandeis Haiti Initiative (BHI), a student group geared toward empowering Haitian people and improving their lives.

The second annual game pits a student team against faculty and staff in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased Monday at BHI rally outside Usdan Student Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

[  Invitation to The Game from President Lawrence and Student Union President Acheampong  ]

The game "raises awareness about these issues that we're trying to improve in Haiti - along the lines of education, health and poverty," says Jon Ostrowsky ‘13, co-president of the Brandeis Haiti Initiative. "It also brings together faculty, staff, students, administrators - who don't necessarily see each other all the time - and reminds people that there is a community, that we care about one another and the world around us."

The Haiti Initiative was founded in 2010 on the heels of the earthquake that devastated Haiti that January, and builds on work students and faculty were already doing in the country.

In the summer of 2009, Shaina Gilbert, who graduated in 2010, founded the Empowerment Through Education (ETE) Camp in Hinche, Haiti, which focuses on classroom activities for children throughout the day and offers some English lessons for parents in the late afternoons.

"Education can be used as a liberator," says co-president Napoleon Lherisson '11. "Once you educate someone, you cannot take it from them. That can empower them through life."

The program was founded with a Davis Peace Grant and with World of Work funding from the Hiatt Career Center. It functions with the aid of the Brandeis Haiti Initiative. Students continue to seek grants to sustain the camp, and at least eight Brandeis students have worked as counselors and advocates for the more than 70 children and about the same number of adults who have come through.

"Kids are kids," says Lherisson, who visited the camp last summer. "No matter where they are they want to learn, they want to have fun, they have the same energy."

The initiative's mission is not only to empower Haitian people, but also to foster community on campus. Lherisson says that Brandeis community extends all the way to Haiti.

"Brandeis is in Haiti as much as Haiti is in Brandeis," he says, and the kids love singing popular songs like Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and "I Can" by Nas. Students walk around with Brandeis notebooks and Brandeis-funded books, and Lherisson says the transformation they undergo in five weeks is profound.

Ostrowsky adds that the current generation of Haitian children will be the people leading the country in 20 years, and educating them and instilling in them leadership skills is the most sustainable change the group can offer.

Professor Jane Hale, the faculty advisor to BHI, founded Famni Ki Li Ansamn, Creole for Families Reading Together, an experiential learning program in which students help her fund and bring picture books to Haitian families. Gilbert will introduce the program at ETE Camp this summer.

"As a French professor, the connection between France and Haiti has been a natural one to make," Hale says. "Last year when the earthquake happened - I think because the country is so close, to hear and recognize that it was our neighbor - it helped people connect to Haitian culture."

Since its founding, the initiative has raised more than $30,000 for the cause. From a reading by Haitian-American writer Patrick Sylvain and spoken word and hip-hop artists to a talk on rebuilding Haiti from Brian Concannon Jr., founder of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, its events bring the campus together and raise both awareness and much-needed money. The latter is tougher to come by now that Haiti's plight has less of a news presence.

Proceeds from the game and other events this year will go to three organizations that promote the organization's values: the ETE Camp, Partners in Health and Hope for Haiti, another non-profit aimed at helping Haiti through education. Some funds also will be donated to Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. How that money will be allotted, Ostrowsky says, depends on how much is raised.

"ETE Camp relies on the strength of this community," he says, and priority will go toward sustaining it. "Though we're only a community of 3,000 students or so, together we can make a lasting change to this country."

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

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