Alex Babycz and Brian Lay traveled to Haiti to help a university set up a computer lab in Oct. 2008.
Two years later, that university is a pile of rubble, and their Haitian friends have no place to go.
On Jan. 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leaving the country devastated.
The quake triggered an international response from people all over the world interested in helping the impoverished country.
Brian Lay, manager of Information Systems, and Alex Babycz, assistant professor of Construction Management, were among those at MCCC personally touched by the quake’s effects.
“We were concerned for the people we knew there,” Babycz said. “And when we found out that the school had collapsed, we were saddened about that.”
“But it wasn’t all lost,” Babycz added. “The computer lab had a year and a half of use, and no one (at the school) was hurt too bad.”
The duo had traveled to Haiti two years earlier with the group, Partners in Progress. While there, the group worked with the University of Fondwa to build them a computer lab.
Prior to their visit, the school hadn’t owned any computers. The group gave the school seven computers with available Internet access.
They also installed solar panels on the roof of the university to power the computer lab.
“Electricity was sparse,” Lay said. “They only had about two or three hours of electricity a day.”
The purpose of their trip was to provide the Haitians in Fondwa with a “microenterprise,” Babycz said.
“We wanted to train the Haitians to be able to install and maintain the systems so they could start their own business or share their knowledge,” he said.
While there, Babycz taught the university students “basic electricity, wiring, the basics of solar panels and components, and how to maintain batteries,” he said.
Lay trained students and faculty on the basics of computer operating systems.
“I taught the faculty and staff how to set up and maintain a network,” he said.
Babycz and Lay’s story was featured on WTOL Channel 11 News on Jan. 22.
The day of the earthquake, the University of Fondwa collapsed while school was in session. Students and faculty were able to escape the building with only minor injuries.
After the quake, they walked to the nearest city—a distance of about 15-20 miles.
Babycz and Lay learned of the destruction through a text message sent by a professor at the university.
The quake occurred 15 miles west of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The city of Fondwa is located 35 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
“There’s so much devastation, so many deaths, and you just have to imagine the worst,” Lay said. “I hope that they can pull their lives back together and recover and reuse what was there. Because they were trained, they might be able to salvage some of the equipment and reuse it.”
The earthquake personally touched other MCCC employees as well.
Jo Ellen Locher, assistant professor of English, saw her niece, a four-year medical student, travel to Haiti after the quake and wanted to do something to help.
“I had read about Haiti when I was in college,” Locher said. “They had said that it was the poorest nation in the world and showed pictures of the extreme poverty there. It was always a country that I had an interest in.”
Locher collected supplies like bottled water, personal hygiene items, and canned goods in a box outside her office to deliver to ISOH/IMPACT, an organization that sends relief supplies to disaster-struck areas. ISOH ships donations via freighter, so the supplies reach Haiti faster than if flown in.
So far Locher has received enough donations to give ISOH six “trunk loads” of contributions, including two from outside MCCC.
“One man from a local church gave 1,500 to 2,000 tubes of toothpaste all boxed and ready to go,” she said.
“Now that they’re getting food and water in to people, the need has shifted from food and water to things like money, shoes, medical supplies, painkillers, crutches, and sleeping bags,” Locher said.
Medical supplies seem to be the country’s major need.
“Their hospital is more like a first aid unit,” Locher said in an e-mail asking MCCC employees to help with the Haitian effort. “They don’t have fancy CT scan and MRI equipment to help those who are desperately ill.”
“I hope people don’t forget that rebuilding this country is going to take years.”
Locher is inspired by the people of Haiti’s resolve in the midst of this disaster.
“The people just have such a wonderful spirit; it’s just inspiring,” she said.
MCCC’s Student Government also has been getting involved in the effort to aid Haiti.
They hosted a fundraiser called, “A Hand for Haiti” through Feb. 4. During the fundraiser, people could purchase a cut-out of a hand and write a message of hope for the people of Haiti on it. The hands will be displayed on windows around campus.
“All monies collected go directly to the people of Haiti either through the American Red Cross, Partners in Progress, or Partners in Health,” Thomas Ryder, Events and Student Activities coordinator at MCCC, said.
All of these efforts seek to offer the country of Haiti one thing: hope.
“We are just hopeful that from the devastation they can move forward,” Brian Lay said.
“It’s going to be a very difficult, very tough, very long journey.”