Haitian Student Relieved Family is Safe, Hoping for Country’s Recovery

January 13, 2010

Update 1/15/09: The Spencer Center is collecting checks and cash for victims in Haiti on behalf of the American Red Cross International Response Fund. There will also be a collection taken during the Martin Luther King, Jr. candlelight march and memorial service at Central United Methodist Church on January 18th, and proceeds from the sale of Kwanzaa Ball tickets will benefit Haiti relief efforts as well.

Nearly an hour passed between
the time a violent magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti’s capital
Port-au-Prince Tuesday and when Naianka “Naka” Rigaud’s mother
in Staunton reached her father at work in that city via phone. Naka,
a junior, was busy on campus
and had not yet heard about the disaster, but it was one of the longest
hours of her mother’s life.

“We were so happy to hear
that he was safe, and his office building was not damaged at all,”
Rigaud said Wednesday. “But he had to walk home [to the town of Petion-Villa,
a suburb of the capital], and I’m sure what he saw was not good.”

Riguad’s mom and younger
sister moved to Staunton in 2008, about a year and half after she enrolled
at Mary Baldwin. Her father stayed in their native country to work.
Between classes, she has been glued to CNN for coverage of the earthquake
and communicating frequently — mostly via Facebook — with friends
who have families in that country. Everyone she has checked in with
so far has been unharmed.

But she knows that is not the
case for many. “The house of one of my aunts collapsed, but no one
was hurt. I‘m just waiting to see what the next step will be to try
to put the country back together,” she said. The quake destroyed government
offices, cathedrals, hospitals, schools, a prison, entire neighborhoods — even
the president’s palace.

By Wednesday afternoon, officials
still had no firm grasp on the casualty count, although estimates are
as high as half a million people. Reports from the Port-au-Prince —
with a population of two million — indicate bodies are being piled
on roads next to flattened buildings. The dead include the wealthy and
the poor, as well as aid workers who were stationed in there.

Although the situation is dire,
Rigaud said she has already heard people talking about what is deemed
the worst earthquake to hit the area in 100 years as an “opportunity
to start over in the right direction.”

While she continues to monitor
the situation, Rigaud said support from the Mary Baldwin community has
been “amazing. So many people have asked if my family is alright,
and have told me that they hope the country can recover.” Rigaud herself
felt a little helpless, but she was planning to attend a vigil service
Wednesday night organized by a local church.

Haiti is widely considered
the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The United States has
dispatched Navy ships to the country, joining other nations that are
sending aid to the island nation.