Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community on Haiti

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Last month's devastating Haitian earthquake delivered a terrible personal blow to those in the MIT community with family, friends or roots in Haiti, and we extend to them our deepest sympathy and concern. While many efforts are currently under way at MIT to help with immediate needs in Haiti, the scope and scale of the physical destruction will increasingly call on the skills, talents and creativity of the MIT community as attention shifts to the long process of rebuilding and development.

Following Hurricane Katrina, MIT responded in a range of ways, including fund raising through the Public Service Center, welcoming to campus displaced Gulf Coast college students, designing affordable pre-fabricated houses and testing the waters of Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain for pathogens and heavy metals – a student project made possible by Carol and Ronald Kurtz ‘54, who created a targeted MIT fund for Katrina recovery efforts.

The crisis in Haiti presents an equally compelling call to serve. I write now to make you aware of efforts already begun at MIT and to urge all of us to lend our support and talent as Haiti rebuilds.

The immediate response
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, groups around campus took swift action to raise money for relief. Through a donation drive and a benefit concert, students raised thousands of dollars for Partners in Health, and our basketball teams and swimming and diving programs have also raised relief funds. Such student-led efforts will continue as the semester goes on. MIT's Public Service Center quickly established itself as a coordination and collection point for MIT community fundraising efforts and public service activities.

While financial contributions from our community help to support immediate relief for the Haitian people, we are also offering technical assistance. For instance, Marc Zissman, Assistant Head of the Communications and Information Technology Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, is assisting the U.S. military's Haiti task force; he recently reached out to Professor Steve Eppinger of MIT Sloan for help with data analysis for humanitarian-relief needs. Thanks to a swift response from Sloan senior lecturer Anjali Sastry and others, student teams have already begun work.

Going forward, our expertise in civil and environmental engineering, communications, logistics, energy, urban planning, architecture, finance and other fields could be immensely valuable in helping the Haitian people rebuild their infrastructure and economy. To help launch our work, Carol and Ronald Kurtz have once again stepped forward, creating the MIT/Haiti Relief Fund to make the Institute's work in Haiti as focused, coordinated and effective as possible.

Faculty and students look ahead
Not surprisingly, MIT faculty and students have already begun to focus on long-term solutions. A few examples:

  • Following an IAP workshop on Haiti sponsored by the MIT Media Lab and the Center for Civic Media, Professors Barry Vercoe and Dale Joachim are teaching a new project-based class, “New Media Projects for Haiti,” which will explore how communications technology can help in rebuilding, with the goal of having students test their projects in Haiti in late April.
  • Even before the earthquake, D-Lab founder Amy Smith and her students were developing a low-cost rainwater harvesting system for a community in Haiti that has long had limited access to fresh water. Once proven viable, this system could have broad applications in reconstruction and relief work.
  • Architecture professor Jan Wampler is designing a small, self-sufficient settlement consisting of a school and housing for 350 Haitian students and 100 staff. The settlement, conceived for a region about one hour from Port-au-Prince, will be carried out in coordination with local Haitian organizations, engineers and contractors, and can also serve as a model for use across Haiti.


A call for concerted long-term action
These nascent projects underscore the variety of creative ways that MIT can help the Haitian people rebuild. To maximize the productivity of MIT's efforts, I have asked Vice Chancellor and Dean for Graduate Education Steve Lerman to lead the MIT/Haiti Response Advisory Group, tasked with identifying MIT-led projects around Haitian redevelopment. Please inform him directly about any MIT expertise that could be put to service for Haiti.

All of MIT's efforts will require sustained financial support. I ask all members of the community to consider adding to the MIT/Haiti Relief Fund begun by Carol and Ron Kurtz.

MIT Medical's Mental Health Service stands ready to help those suffering personal grief and loss in the wake of this catastrophe (call the Service at 617-253-2916).

As the people and government of Haiti begin the monumental task of reconstruction, they will be aided immeasurably by the fearless problem solving, bold ingenuity and spirit of service that have always defined MIT.


Susan Hockfield


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