UCSC class raises awareness about the crisis of Haitian children
Last Saturday morning, Feb. 5, a corner of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz was abuzz with students in bright red shirts reading “Children in Extreme Circumstances” accompanied by the image of small hands reaching up as if in desperation. Stationed by graphic pictures of Haitian children pasted on display boards, the gathering was all part of a project for an undergraduate psychology course taught by Professor Tony Hoffman at UC Santa Cruz.
“I don’t believe in standard academic papers anymore,” Hoffman says when asked what the purpose of the assignment was. He claims there were two main objectives to his method, first to get his students to learn as much as possible about the numerous issues affecting Haitian children and, secondly, to have the students present their research to the public.
The complex issue of Haitian children’s welfare was broken into learning areas like education, poverty, cholera and HIV/AIDS. The students did not collect donations but simply handed out pamphlets about the aftermath last January’s earthquake and information on NGOs responding to the crisis. Jiro Wiseman, a student in Hoffman’s class, says their goal was to get the Santa Cruz community interested in the Haitian crisis that has been largely absent in the news over the past year. “If a few people get interested that’s great,” Wiseman says.
Hoffman, who went to Haiti three times last year under the auspices of The American Refugee Committee, calls the situation in Haiti “a complex emergency” characterized by “the destruction of so many parts of society,” adding that it will be a difficult task to rebuild the nation.
As the Haitian people are in the process of electing a new government, there is concern that child welfare is absent from the political discourse. With almost half of the public schools destroyed in last year’s earthquake, schools and teachers have been over burdened with many extra students. Additionally, as some families become more desperate, RESTAVEKS have become a common alternative where a child is sent to live with a wealthier family with hopes that they will be safe, fed properly and maybe even attend school. Unfortunately as the situation in Haiti grows dire, even comparatively wealthy families are struggling and RESTAVEK children are exploited for labor.
Hoffman’s exercise no doubt pressed these issues into the minds of his students as well as the passers-by who stopped to look at displays and ask questions. Another group of Hoffman’s students will hold a similar event downtown on Feb. 12 and 13 in regards to children and HIV/AIDS. This group will have information on how HIV/AIDS affects impoverished areas and creates child headed households in some cases. Similar to the Haitian children event, the two-day HIV/AIDS event will be informative on what sorts of issues are related to the spread of the virus and how it affects the lives of children.