A Public Observance in Solidarity with the People of Haiti
January 21, 2010
Good afternoon. I would like to thank this afternoon’s speakers and thank you all for joining us, to express our solidarity with the people of Haiti.
On behalf of the University of Toronto, I would like to express my utmost sympathy for anyone in our community who has been personally touched by the disaster.
I do strongly encourage students who have been affected personally and could benefit from university assistance, including access to counselling or a campus chaplain, to be in touch with student services – a supportive group of people who are there for you, to listen and to help.
It is our sincere hope that all those injured last week in Haiti will recover fully and those still missing in this difficult aftermath will be found soon.
The tragedy of the earthquake, and the aftershocks that are continuing to be felt even up to yesterday, are of almost unbelievable proportions:
- 200,000 estimated dead so far – 1 in 50
- 2,000,000 Haitians homeless – 1 in 5
What makes this even more difficult to understand is that it has occurred in a geopolitical region that makes immediate assistance and coordination of recovery and relief efforts complicated.
The loss of life to date is devastating and the people of Haiti are now trying to cope with issues of disease and security in what was already a fragile state.
Fortunately, the process of healing and recovery seems to have begun among a strong, proud and accomplished people who – perhaps above anything else – pride themselves on being survivors through difficult times.
In fact, I had a conversation this week with an Arts & Science grad who has recently done volunteer work at a malnutrition clinic in Haiti. Her experience was powerful.
She wrote to me that “the resilience and hope in the Haitian people, despite their unfortunate circumstances is a continuous source of inspiration.”
Though right now it seems impossible that the impact of this tragedy will ever go away, the world community has repeatedly expressed its desire to see Haiti restored – not to its pre-earthquake state but, rather, to a level of development, health and safety that so many of us in the Western world enjoy on a daily basis.
I know everyone at the University of Toronto would love to see that goal realized.
Universities are communities of many diverse people, with different aims and goals, but with a common goal of somehow making the world a better place.
What can we do?
As this afternoon’s event so remarkably shows, young people across the world are some of the most caring and active members of any community, and empathy and kinship know no political or geographic bounds.
There are perhaps too few tangible things that we, as a community, can do for those who lost friends and loved ones, and those others who were so fundamentally affected by this tragedy.
While some small number of us can volunteer our time and energy directly on the ground, assisting noble agencies like Partners in Health or Doctors Without Borders – website information for these agencies can be found in your program.
For the rest of us the most useful way to help is by, within our means, providing monetary support to these organizations. Today, representatives of the U of T chapter of Doctors Without Borders Canada will be available outside of Hart House to receive donations.
As many of you know, the Canadian government will match monetary donations to support relief efforts in Haiti, to a total of $50 million. This means that donating $50 will result in a $100 contribution.
We at UofT also wanted to provide some way to help and to show our support, and so we are the preliminary stages of creating a bursary or scholarship for a deserving Haitian student to attend school here. Please stay tuned for further announcements as this develops.
What we as a community can also offer is a sense of comradeship and, perhaps most importantly, hope.
By showing our support and sharing our spirit and compassion with those in Haiti – as we are doing through this service – combined with similar efforts of people across the world, we let the Haitian community know they are not alone in their loss, and that we are aware of this tragedy, and that they are in our thoughts.
It is times like this that I am most proud to be a part of this University community.
U of T has many strengths, many of which are unique to our University. But I am proud to assert that the compassion of our students – while unquestionably strong – is not unique, but is a characteristic shared by people across the world.
And this, I think, is the strongest hope for Haiti.
So, on behalf of the University administration, I would like to thank the rest of today’s speakers and I would like to thank everyone here this afternoon for your compassion and for your kindness.
Check against delivery.