by Eugenia Xenos
For students with family and friends in Central America, the past month has meant more than worrying about mid-terms and assignments -- it has meant mobilizing to get aid to the countries devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
Manuel Urbina, for example, is a part-time Industrial Engineering student who has been volunteering at the Honduran consulate here in Montreal. He is from Honduras himself -- one of the two countries, along with Nicaragua, most affected by the deadly Atlantic storm. Reports say that Hurricane Mitch destroyed almost 90 per cent of the country's roads and infrastructure.
The hurricane and the landslides it set off killed more than 11,000 people in Central America, and up to 13,000 more are still missing. Whole villages were wiped out, and other unexpected problems surfaced, such as land mines being unearthed.
Urbina has family living in Honduras, and for a few nail-biting days, he was worried for his sister, who lives in Tegucigalpa, and the rest of his family in another part of Honduras. Even after his mother called to say that everyone was fine -- his sister had been evacuated the week before the storm hit -- he said it was hard to stay focused on school.
"You can't help thinking about what's going on there, but you have to concentrate on your studies," he said. "That's what I'm here for!"
Urbina is also involved with LASO, the Latin American Students' Organization, which has been very active in getting donations for the area. Its president, Political Science student Jonathan Rosemberg, said that Montrealers have been very generous; a shipment was sent off last Sunday, and the group continues to collect non-perishable food, water purification tablets, medicine, clothing, shoes, sheets, sleeping bags, tents and plastic to make provisional shelters.
"No sweaters, though, unless they're to be used as pillows," said another LASO volunteer, Ramiro Ruiz. "It may be cold here, but people don't need really heavy clothing there."
The Dean of Students Office was also very helpful. Louyse Lussier said her office often works with LASO members, and when the students approached her for resources, she was able to oblige. Physical Resources, in particular Michael Di Grappa and Christine Lavoie, located a room on campus to store donations, and Lussier let Shoptalk subscribers know that LASO was collecting relief items.
"We went through an ice storm not too long ago," Lussier said, "I think that's why some people would be sympathetic to this type of appeal."
Indeed, many organizations in the city have been swamped with donations, including Development and Peace. Its Communications Director, Ken Whittingham, is a Loyola graduate who was Director of Public Relations here for many years.
Whittingham, who has been interviewed extensively on the issue, told The Gazette, "It's been an avalanche, just an incredible response. People have been wandering into the office non-stop, signing cheques."
However, Urbina worries that aid will end once the media stop talking about the disaster, even though it is said that what has been pledged so far won't be enough to rebuild all that was destroyed in Central America.
If you haven't made a donation, but would still like to, here are some organizations to contact:
(2010 Mackay, Q-02)
Development and Peace: 257-8711
Oxfam Canada: 1-800-466-9326
Comité Urgence Mile-End/ La Lima: 270-3182
Care Canada: 1-800-267-5232
Canadian Red Cross: 1-800-418-1111
Médecins sans frontières: (613) 241-4944
Canadian Jewish Congress: 931-7531
World Vision Canada: 1-800-268-1650
Corporation culturelle latinoaméricaine de l'amitié: 748-0796