February 4, 2010                                           

AMHERST, Mass.—In an altruistic spin on a nearly 200-year-old rivalry, students at Amherst College are challenging fellow undergraduates at Williams College to a friendly competition to see who can collect the most money in support of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. The two venerable liberal arts schools are engaging in a weeklong fundraising contest, with the final results being tallied at halftime of the men’s basketball game between the colleges at Amherst on Feb. 12. (Check out other ways members of the college community are responding at the Amherst Responds Web site.)

“As rivals, Amherst and Williams seek the same ends, but end up making each other better along the way,” said Suzanne Coffey, director of athletics at Amherst. “We’re pleased that we can work with our longtime competitor to heighten awareness and maximize participation in the effort to raise funds to add to the relief effort in Haiti.”

Amherst’s main fundraising activity involves the sale of red and blue silicone wristbands bearing the words “Vive Haiti.” The wristbands are being sold for $5 each, and organizers are hoping that all students, faculty and staff end up buying one—or more. 

“We are fortunate to have our own, natural rival with whom any contest instantly drives many Amherst students to participate,” explained one organizer, senior and student body president Peter Tang. “Students working on these efforts on both campuses realize that our efforts don’t end after this week, as there is so much rebuilding for Haiti for the months and years ahead. But we do hope this friendly competition—based on our natural rivalry—serves to jumpstart a very worthy cause that could use all possible support.”

On Amherst’s end, dollars collected will go to five nonprofits: Grassroots International, the Lambi Fund for Haiti, Seeds for Haiti, Fonkoze and the Global Fund for Women’s “Crisis Fund.” All were selected from more than a dozen candidates uncovered and researched by students.

“We have an opportunity to support some great organizations that are not getting as much publicity or funding as larger popular relief efforts,” explained Elias Aba Milki, an Amherst senior who helped draft a set of principles that guided the undergraduates in selecting the groups. “Many of these organizations have diverse methods to help develop Haiti, from setting up microfinance for women to helping peasants develop sustainable farming. They also work in different parts of Haiti, rather than all working in one region.” And while initial donations will be sent to the five nonprofits the students agreed upon, “we plan to continue conducting research for more organizations to add to our list and are open to suggestions,” Milki added. 

For those wishing to contribute to the effort, bracelets are on sale now through the end of February at Amherst in the Keefe Campus Center and Valentine Dining Hall. They will also be sold at LeFrak Gymnasium on Feb. 12 when Amherst takes on Williams in women’s basketball and until halftime at the men’s basketball game on the same day. (The former starts at 6 p.m.; the latter follows at 8 p.m.) Those with PayPal accounts may also donate by e-mailing vivehaiti@gmail.com.

Other Haiti fundraising efforts at Amherst will include a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the college’s War Memorial and yet-to-be-finalized events at the Black Student Union’s CaribFest and Multicultural Alumni Weekend, both in April.