Hope in the Face of a Disaster: standing together after Hurricane Matthew

In October, Hurricane Matthew struck regions of southern Haiti as well as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, the death toll surpassed 1,000; the hurricane displaced hundreds of thousands and left over 1 million people in the south in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Many were left without homes, access to safe drinking water, food, or medical attention. Medical and public health professionals feared that another cholera crisis was imminent.

Three thousand miles away, students at Harvard whose families or friends had been affected by the earthquake gathered together. On October 13th, members of the Global Mental Health Coalition, Partners in Health Engage, Global Health Forum, Global Health and AIDS Coalition, Harvard Caribbean Club, and Kuumba gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor those who had lost their lives, their homes, their families, and their friends.

Photo credit: Melanie Fu '18

The vigil was a moment to acknowledge these hardships and losses and to pray for the continued resilience of those affected by the storm.

Ultimately, the vigil represented hope in the face of a disaster. It revealed the beauty, power and community that are possible when groups of students step away from their schoolwork, projects, and other commitments to feel and to remember - together. Although every individual can only do so much, and the physical distance between the vigil and Hurricane Matthew was immense, it is encouraging to acknowledge this community’s strength and the potential for change that it represents.

Now, it is time to make use of this potential for change and to translate the care and compassion demonstrated at the vigil into meaningful action going forward. Those at the vigil emphasized the importance of donating time or money to the groups in Haiti that are helping to rebuild from the devastation that the hurricane has led behind. They stressed the importance of donating to Haitian-led, Haitian-run groups that began after the 2010 earthquake, or to international organizations like Partners in Health that have been carrying out incredible medical work in the country for several decades. It has been almost a month since the hurricane struck, but funds are still sorely needed to continue serving the communities that have been affected. Unfortunately, too, this is not the first time that Haiti has dealt with such a disaster. Yet the strength of the people of Haiti, and the strength of communities near and far who care so deeply about them, are a source of hope as we move forward and rebuild for the future.


Authors: Joshua Ellis '16, Laura Kanji '19, and Daniela Muhleisen '19, from the Harvard Global Mental Health Coalition.