“Earthquake in Haiti.”

That’s the text message Andye Sanon, ’13, received from a cousin shortly after the devastating 7.0 earthquake struck the island on Jan. 12.

“Earthquake in Haiti.” The same message again, this time from a friend.

For Sanon, who was born in Haiti and lived there until she was in sixth grade, the next few days were a stressful blur.

She made many fruitless phone calls to the island to seek news of her grandmother’s well being. She spent hours watching television coverage of the disaster. She worried endlessly about the friends she had left behind.

Though she eventually received happy news that her grandmother had survived, Sanon also learned that College St. Francois d’Assise in Port au-Prince, the school she attended through sixth grade, had been leveled.

Mike Laventure, ’13, saw on the morning news that there had been an earthquake. He was shocked when a professor told his class how severe it was. Laventure, who is Haitian but was born in the United States, eventually learned that two family members had been killed in the earthquake.

Lyrica Fils-Aimé, ’10, learned of the earthquake from a campus television. She immediately called her father, speaking to him in Creole about the disaster. Fils-Aimé was born in Haiti but left when she was two months old. Though she has received word that her family in Haiti survived, Fils-Aimé has stopped watching news coverage of the disaster.

“I’m afraid I’ll see my cousins,” she says. “I’m scared to see a picture of them.”

Though these three students have deep personal ties to Haiti, they all say they were surprised by the speed at which the wider University community responded to the disaster.

A Solidarity Action For Haiti (SAFH) committee was formed in the days immediately following the earthquake. On Jan. 20, it held its first event, a Solidarity Action Day, during which it shared information about Haiti and brought in representatives from non-profits that work there. The committee has plans for continued events, including lectures on Haiti, a benefit art auction, and a candlelight vigil.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. joined the Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity, Minority Student Union, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and West Indian Lynk to collect money and clothing donations for Haiti, taking in nearly $2,000 in less than a week.

Still, Sanon wishes she could be in Haiti to help. “I feel pretty useless,” she says. “I feel like at this point I should be over there helping –– translating or distributing food. … For me, looking at the TV, these are not places that are just there. They are places that I’ve been to, they’re places that I know.”

She would like to travel to Haiti during spring break, or during the summer, to help. She has friends who want to join her. “I think it would be great if Richmond could come up with a volunteer program,” she says.

Fils-Aimé has talked to her cousins who attend Virginia Commonwealth University about working together to help secure scholarships for Haitian college students whose schools have been destroyed.

“If they can come here and learn about what they need to do to make Haiti a better place, in five or six years they can go back and help,” she says.

Laventure wants to spend his summer helping to rebuild Haiti, and hopes he is able to do so with a University of Richmond volunteer group.

“I want to take as active a role as I can to be a part of the restoration of Haiti,” he says. “I want people to understand the culture so that they can help out because they feel an attachment to [Haiti], rather than helping out just because they feel guilty.”

Sanon, who is considering a major in psychology, says the earthquake has helped her to solidify her future plans. “I have always known I wanted to do something where I wanted to help people,” she says. "I find my strength in helping others.”