Haiti & Chile fundrasing at St. Cloud State

Friday, June 25, 2010


Students and faculty were just returning to classes for the spring semester, when on Jan. 12, a devastating earthquake struck the small island country of Haiti. In the following weeks, all media outlets were saturated with news of the loss of life – recent updates estimate between 200,000 and 250,000 people perished – and the indescribable plight of survivors in the impoverished nation. Soon, the nation of Chile would suffer a similar fate and although the death toll was not as severe, the loss and destruction for the country and especially at the Universidad de Concepción, a partnering university with St. Cloud State, was felt by everyone.

The call for help was immediate and on the far-removed, wintry campus landscape, small groups of students and faculty began to hear the call of service and they responded in droves. From all over campus, individual and most often student-led relief efforts began to take shape to organize, fundraise and educate at a grassroots level.

Beth Knutson-Kolodzne, who heads the Volunteer Connection Program and has been tracking relief efforts on campus, is not surprised by the student’s eager activism. A 2009 student survey found that more than 50 percent of students volunteer an average of approximately five hours per month. Given their course loads and personal obligations, this is an impressive fact, Knutson-Kolodzne said.

While volunteerism isn’t a university requirement, through core classes and various departments, it is encouraged. In Knutson-Kolodzne’s opinion, this level of volunteerism also affirms guiding principles and philosophies that have emerged under recent university leadership: the idea of educating the whole student and graduating students with a sense of their place in a broader community as global citizens. This is the product of a less measurable, but no-less important, facet of fundraising –– the element of awareness which took the form of many campus activities from general fund-raising to the longheld college tradition of the Teach-In.

A Teach-In differs from a seminar or lecture in its refusal to be tied to one perspective or academic discipline. St. Clair worked with more than 13 campus departments and organizations to solicit help in planning and presenting. “You don’t need to be an expert on Haiti specifically to bring a new and important perspective,” St. Clair emphasized. “The idea is to use the expertise that is around you to bring new light to the situation.”

In March, more than 400 students, faculty and community members attended the Haiti Teach-In. Haitian student Mike Fabre emceed the evening as Kampach’s students discussed their fundraising efforts and seven professors presented topics ranging from the more nebulous, “The Psychological Processes of Blaming the Victim” to the pragmatic, “Health Issues in Haiti.” St. Clair reflected, “It was impressive for everyone to recognize the degree of expertise on this campus.”

St. Clair hopes to develop a model for organizing Teach-Ins as a response to current events as they arise. Robert Lavenda, professor of anthropology, sought to utilize those same resources for a Chile Teach-In following the devastating quake there. Shortly after the Haiti Teach-In, six presenters prepared a similarly broad range of topics on the Chilean earthquake and Chile in general. While turnout was substantially lower – attributed to “donor fatigue” – Lavenda thought that the Teach-In was the best response to the disaster in Chile. While he had hoped to donate money directly to the Universidad de Concepción with which St. Cloud State has an ongoing relationship with, collecting and donating money turned out to be a bureaucratic nightmare, he said. Instead, they encouraged people to donate privately, and focused efforts on raising awareness. The Teach-In was a resource unique to the University, with its ability to draw on multiple disciplines and offer a contextual understanding.

The spontaneous fundraising efforts across campus, provided an opportunity for students to give money – and for other students to learn about the planning and logistics of charitable giving. When faced with tragedy or misfortune, a community can use that event as a catalyst for greater understanding of the world around them. As Beth Knutson-Kolodzne observed, “It is an example of students taking what they have learned academically, and applying it in the community. To ‘Think Globally’ isn’t just a slogan, it’s a broader experience that students are getting. It’s about expanding their world.”

- Jennifer Kohnhorst

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