Amherst Magazine

Hope for Haiti

By Peter Rooney

One year after the earthquake, an Amherst alumna with a key role in monitoring Haiti’s recovery says there’s reason to be optimistic, even if challenges remain daunting.

“As absolutely devastating and heartbreaking as the Haiti earthquake was, I believe that the resources coming into the country do offer optimism and hope,” says Abbey Gardner ’89, a senior adviser in the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

With an epicenter about 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, the earthquake killed 230,000 people, injured another 300,000 and left more than 1 million homeless. 

Appointed by U.N. Deputy Special Envoy Paul Farmer (who earlier founded Partners in Health, the organization that Thierry Pauyo ’05 worked for in Haiti), Gardner is coordinating U.N. efforts to rebuild the country, working with governments, foundations, nongovernmental organizations and groups such as the World Bank.

Her optimism is tempered by two pressing challenges: a cholera outbreak that continues to vex health authorities and a tangled political situation following a disputed November election that led to civil unrest. “There are donors who have committed a great deal of funding that hasn’t gone into Haiti yet, because they have been waiting for the new administration,” Gardner says.

She believes a more coordinated approach to providing relief will soon take root—welcome news for Amherst students such as Tahina Vatel ’12, a Haitian American who spent the earthquake’s anniversary filming a documentary there, and Kathryn Libby ’11, who is raising money and supplies for a new school near Port-au-Prince. Libby says the earthquake has fallen off the radar screen a bit among students, but that enthusiasm can be easily rekindled—if a clearer sense develops of how to help effectively.