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Haitian partners with locals to rebuild homeland

Date: 2/9/2010

Feb. 10, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Jenny Daverna will always remember Haiti as paradise, no matter how much destruction Mother Nature inflicted on her home country.

Daverna, a senior at Westfield State College (WSC), was born in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and remained there for the first 12 years of her life -- returning for the first time last year with the college's Millot Project. Daverna sprung into action upon hearing about the catastrophic earthquake on Jan. 12, organizing fundraisers and donation drives throughout campus to aid the relief effort.

"To me it felt like a nightmare, especially as the story was unfolding and [the] number of deaths kept getting higher," she recalled. "I could not believe that I used to walk on some of those streets and I recognized some of the buildings and places and I felt complete awe.

"The first couple of days were unexplainable and very tough, especially after finding out that my aunt and my cousin were victims of the quake and for the longest time we had thought that my uncle was gone as well but he was later found, and many other family members were in the hospital and homeless," Daverna continued.

"I tend to find a lesson through every obstacle, as I became a true believer in the saying 'tomorrow is not promise,'" she said. "Even though I was born in Haiti and my heart was torn apart for my nation, I realized I had to be strong for those who did survive and help them as much as I possibly could."

Daverna partnered with fellow student and friend Dominique Price, Sue LaMontagne, dean of student affairs at WSC, and President Evan Dobelle to synchronize the students' and administrators' efforts.

LaMontagne noted this month is now full of events such as bake sales, talent shows and paid events to aid their efforts. She added the goal is to raise $6,000 by the end of the month and $10,000 by the end of the semester.

"We felt so helpless and wanted to be there immediately and do as much as possible," Price said. She added further discussions with Dobelle concluded it was simply too dangerous to be on the ground in Haiti and their efforts would be better served on campus.

"It's amazing how many students wanted to step forward and go [to Haiti] to help," LaMontagne said. "From my perspective, I can't say enough about the students on campus. We want them to have a community service focus and they step up to the plate all the time and really lead the charge and respond to the people in need."

She noted that funds collected on behalf of the relief effort will be donated to Partners in Health, a human service organization based in Boston, and at least one other organization yet to be determined.

Daverna said despite the present circumstances, she'll always remember her homeland as majestic.

"I remember beautiful beaches and how the weather is always great and the people are just great," she said. "We hold so much history! If only the media would take away the negative lights then maybe people would take the time to learn more then the fact that we are the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere."

To participate in the college's events to benefit Haiti, visit

Further information about Partners in Health may be found on their Web site,