By Caitlin Ferrell

Students singing to remember Haiti victims. -- Photo by Sarah Kazadi

A candlelight vigil for the victims was held on Feb. 2 in the SAC Auditorium. Dozens of Stony Brook University students gathered to pay their respects to those affected by the earthquake. The vigil was organized by students, including members of the Haitian Student Organization and Interfaith Center, with a strong focus on remembering the suffering and offering students an opportunity to seek prayers for loved ones.

Almost one month has passed since the magnitude-7.0 earthquake in Haiti claimed countless lives. Haitian President Rene Preval said on Jan. 27 that 170,000 dead had been counted, though the actual number is unlikely to ever be known due to the massive number of victims and lack of a reliable counting system. The Red Cross estimated that up to three million Haitians have been affected by the earthquake–either killed, injured, or rendered homeless. The tragedy crippled an already impoverished country and its response effects have rippled around the world.

Most of the audience – several dozen attendees – dressed in black and dark tones, which provided a solemn tone unlike most university events. Gospel music played in the auditorium as photos from Haiti played on a projector. Five of the university’s religious leaders gave remarks and prayers to the audience. Dr. Chao Yang Peng of the Asian Christian Campus Ministry, asked the crowd, “Why has tragedy struck Haiti?”

Photos of the wounded played. Photos of children crying, the damaged Presidential Palace. “All of the fabric of society lay to rubble,” SBU President Samuel Stanley said in his remarks. “It’s difficult for any one of us to comprehend what has happened.”

Stanley predicted that media coverage of Haiti will soon lag for newer stories and interest will fade. Stanley emphasized the university’s support. “Stony Brook University cares and we will continue to do our best to help Haiti move forward,” Stanley said. The university president spoke of creating a committee for Haitian support, and of possibly waiving out-of-state tuition for Haitian students.

Nadine Peart, president of the Caribbean Students Organization and a host of the vigil, invited audience members to the microphone to seek prayers for loved ones. Fifteen people sought prayers for their aunts, uncles, grandmothers and cousins – the missing, the dead, and the hurting.

Peart announced that $3,000 had already been raised and given to the Red Cross, along with food, medicine and clothing. As people mourn, many have stepped forward to aid in relief efforts. Rise on Haiti is fundraising to send 20,000 students to Haiti. Rise Again Haiti President, Adal Regis, said, “Our vision is to help participate in the re-building of the country.” Rise Again Haiti hopes to coordinate efforts in the coming months, sending groups of students to Haiti beginning in June, the start of the country’s hurricane season starts Jun. 1. “I definitely want to go there and give support,” Regis said, also expressing worry of support fading in the future. “We keep on spreading the word so that when we send people there and when people come back, they will have a story to tell.”

Rise Again Haiti, which Regis founded after the quake, is fundraising on the Stony Brook campus wit collection tables in the SAC and Union. According to Regis, faculty members are helping to raise private funds, and fraternities and sororities are organizing banquet dinners to raise funds. Though most of the members are university students, Florida State University’s sororities and fraternities are also raising funds. “We’re growing everyday,” Regis said.

Jihan Antoine, founder of BelTiFi, an organization she created to gather and empower young Haitian women, is also fundraising to send members to Haiti. The group, which was founded in October 2009, is hoping to send 25 members to Haiti. They plan to raise funds at a launch event in March.

Dr. Susan DiMonda, associate dean and director of Student Life, said that Peart, Daniel, and members of the campus Interfaith Center had played crucial roles in organizing the vigil. “It really was a joint effort between those four individuals,” DiMonda said, adding that they had been planning the event since before the semester officially began.

Dexter Daniel, a host at the vigil and president of the Haitian Student Organization, said, “The service itself was incredible, many people told me they enjoyed it.” Peart said, “I was grateful to the school, I really appreciate the support of everyone in administration; they are like, arms open.”