How students can be engines for creative change in Haiti

Anant Naik

Last week, Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti — a country already reeling from a cholera crisis that has killed thousands of people and crumbling infrastructure coupled with housing shortages from the earthquake back in 2010. This Hurricane was catastrophic — nearly one thousand people have died and the number of cases of cholera is increasing again.

Many students look at this problem and think that there’s nothing they can do. Some argue that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge base to contribute meaningfully to catastrophic events such as these.

I would have to disagree. In my experience, most of the problems in the developing world aren’t insurmountable. They’re about accessibility and cost efficiency. Engineers Without Borders, a student group I’m a part of on campus, recently brought clean water to 800 people. This was a high impact, student-driven effort.

Our response as a student body has to be similar. Innovation can only happen if we all think outside of the box. Our actions must be need-based — driven by the needs that the people of Haiti actually face rather than our perception of the situation. These actions must be sustainable, utilizing input from the people of Haiti and cost-effective enough to continue on for the long recovery process.

This isn’t outside the scope of what students can do. It requires time and effort into thinking about the problems that people are facing. Engineers Without Borders has recently started the Global Crisis Response Student Collective, which is comprised of 15 student groups whose principle objective is to help students think creatively about their capacity to respond to global catastrophes, like what’s happening in Haiti. Hopefully with the assistance of this new organization, all students will know they can lend a meaningful hand across the globe.

Anant welcomes comments at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: Anant is the president of the University of Minnesota’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders.