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March 16, 2010

To the University of Miami Community:

The past two months have taught us that cataclysmic change can happen quickly and without warning.

The massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck just off the coast of Chile on February 27 remind us once again of our fragile place in this world. We reached out immediately to our students and international scholars from Chile to offer any assistance they might need and confirmed the safety of UM students studying in the region. Our thoughts and prayers are with our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and extended UM community whose friends and family were impacted by the quake.

In contrast to Chile, the road to recovery in Haiti will be long and difficult. There is much rebuilding to be done at all levels, and so much of what was lost can never be replaced. The University of Miami accomplished a great deal during Haiti’s greatest hour of need. We provided urgent medical care, supplies, equipment, and volunteer and disaster relief logistics. We also provided the one thing often in short supply but which Haitians can never lose—hope.

Ask any of the hundreds of volunteers from the Miller School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Health Studies about their experiences in Haiti, and they will tell you they witnessed devastation and human suffering on an unimaginable and unforgettable scale. But they also found amazing strength and grace both in the thousands of people they cared for and in those who toiled alongside them.

Indeed, our UM team in Haiti could not have done it all on their own. Many colleagues and friends from South Florida hospitals, as well as from academic medical centers and hospitals all over the United States and the world, joined them under the umbrella of our University of Miami field hospital. These dedicated women and men worked side by side, fighting to save lives and sharing the pain of loss.

Back at the Miller School of Medicine, a virtual UM army coordinated relief flights transporting medical staff, supplies, equipment, and dozens of victims to the U.S. They provided telemedicine consultations, fundraising, and communications support, and still made sure the school’s daily operations were uninterrupted.

As efforts in Haiti shift to long-term recovery and rebuilding, the University’s role is also transitioning. Our Global Institute for Community Health and Development transferred the UM field hospital to Project Medishare, our partner in Haiti, and United for Haiti, a Haitian nonprofit foundation created to establish a national hospital and trauma system and emergency response plan. The University continues to have a presence in Haiti, as always, and we are more dedicated than ever to our ongoing programs there.

There are so many people to thank for their selfless and spontaneous response in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. Dean Goldschmidt and his Miller School/UHealth leadership team working together with our many wonderful Haitian partners provided the surge needed to sustain our massive response efforts.

I especially want to acknowledge Dr. Barth Green, chair and professor of neurological surgery and co-founder of Project Medishare, which since 1994 has worked to improve health conditions for the people of Haiti. Thanks to his leadership and tireless commitment, he inspired others to give generously of their time and resources—and even more importantly, he gave others the strength and courage to never give up.

They are all Haiti’s and our heroes (although they won’t like being called that).

Working together, the UM community raised $4.4 million to help fund the humanitarian mission of our Global Institute, an interdisciplinary program led by the Miller School that focuses on creating and sustaining better health for communities throughout the Western Hemisphere and beyond. We also created much goodwill through the many lives we touched, and that is priceless.

Whether through the candlelight vigil, prayer meetings, donated goods and fundraising initiatives in excess of $22,000, legal assistance, or outreach in the Haitian-American community, our students have also made a real difference. I applaud our Haitian Student Organization, our Student Government, and the more than 70 other student organizations that contributed to Haiti relief efforts and will continue to do so in the months to come.

In addition to medical and nursing faculty, many others are contributing their unique talents. The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s CSTARS center continues to provide satellite images of the damage caused by the quakes in Haiti and Chile; these images convey information crucial to rebuilding efforts in both countries. Timothy Dixon, professor of marine geology and geophysics, has provided expert analysis that helps us better understand the phenomena of earthquakes and ways to potentially mitigate their destructive aftermath. The Center for Latin American Studies and faculty from virtually all our schools and colleges have established contacts with colleagues in Haiti and South Florida to develop ways their respective fields can be beneficial to Haiti’s recovery.

The University is hosting an invitational workshop on “Rebuilding for Resilience: How Science and Engineering Can Inform Haiti’s Reconstruction” on March 22-23. This international, multidisciplinary forum is convened by the U.S. National Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction and co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

At the request of the Haitian government, the School of Architecture is hosting a five-day program on post-earthquake planning from March 24 to 28. The “Haiti Planning Charrette” will provide a forum for Haitian architects, planners, and engineers to work with faculty and students of the School of Architecture, College of Engineering, Rosenstiel School, and design professionals from the Haitian community in Miami to help the Haitian government develop a post-disaster needs assessment and provide sustainable development models for prototypical communities. It is anticipated that the work conducted here will support the Haitian government’s recommendations to be presented at the New York Summit on Haiti later this month.

This is just the beginning of what will take years of both tears and triumph for Haiti.

I’ve always known how truly extraordinary our University is, and now the whole world knows it too.