Students raise money for Haitian earthquake victims

The Student National Medical Association, MCG Chapter, raised money for victims of sexual violence in Haiti with a talent show on Nov. 30. Twelve acts from faculty, staff and students took the stage to support the effort.

“The MCG community has really gotten behind this,” said Lashon Sturgis, second-year student and chapter president. Sturgis said the group anticipated raising just a couple hundred dollars. But they raised about $1,400, an amount Sturgis credits to the participation of faculty and administrators.

“It’s for a good cause, so it doesn’t matter if I embarrass myself,” said Dr. Vadivel Ganapathy, before performing a Bollywood song in his native Tamil language.

Embarrassment wasn’t a concern for Dr. James McLoughlin, who relished the opportunity to show off his stage skills.

“As a father of four, I have found that the only legitimate tool I have to ensure that my children behave in public is the threat that I will do something embarrassing. I need events like this one to give credence to their fears,” McLoughlin said.

The show included musical pieces, parodies and dramatic interpretations. And McLoughlin’s group gave the performance that got the most crowd participation: a lipsyncing extravaganza to DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win,” with Dr. Sola Fasusi representing Snoop Dogg, Dr. David Scott Lind playing Rick Ross, McLoughlin acting as Ludacris, and Sharita King, a vascular surgery intern who McLoughlin said saved the group from certain humiliation.

Student Chike Akoh rapped an original piece called “Patience;” Wilma Sykes-Brown sang Bette Midler’s “The Rose” with Lizandra and Devin Jones; Dr. Michael Brands played drums to “When the Whip Comes Down,” by the Rolling Stones; student Andrew White played guitar while singing songs in Swahili and English; Dr. A.K. Gulati performed “The Rambler,” a medical-themed parody of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler;” Dr. Bruce LeClair gave a dramatic interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky;” student Michael Tjahjadi played piano while singing U2’s “One;” student Wondwossen Zenebe played a classical guitar composition called “Romance” and student Nadia Nabavi closed with an original spoken word piece called “Time.”

More than 1.3 million Haitians have crowded into makeshift camps in and around the capital of Port-au-Price since the January earthquake. In the wake of the disaster, international aid organizations such as Amnesty International and Doctors
Without Borders report sexual violence is on the rise, while incidents of reporting such attacks is on the decline.

The Student National Medical Association works with international women’s rights organization MADRE to prevent violence by providing cell phones, whistles, flashlights and nighttime community watch groups. They tasked their chapters with sponsoring one woman with a $50 donation. But members of the GHSU student organization, including many with roots in developing nations and three of Haitian descent, felt that wasn’t enough.

“I think that each one of us has had experiences with disaster,” event volunteer Chinonye Ogbonnaya- Odor said. The second-year student grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, but immigrated to Columbus, Ohio. She said she is thankful that she has never experienced a natural disaster, though her family had to flee a religious conflict that raged in northern Nigeria when she was younger.

“I know the feeling of fear and sometimes hopelessness that can come with not knowing what the nearest future holds. Adding the possibility of rape makes the situation an even bigger beast, which is why I think that this is a great venture. I really hope that the money we raised can help create a safer environment for these women who are already going through a big struggle,” Ogbonnaya-Odor said.

Bintou Gassama, a second-year medical student originally from Gambia, was among the event’s organizers.

“The stories just really touched me,” Gassama said.

Rape was not considered a crime in Haiti until 2005, and the human rights organization Equality Now says victims do not report violence because they lack faith in the justice systems.

“It was an aspect of the disaster that had not been previously publicized,” said Gorby Leon, a second-year student from Connecticut whose parents are from Haiti. Leon also has relatives still living in Haiti.

So does Vanessa Rigaud, a firstyear student from Atlanta, whose parents are Haitian. “I have many family members in Haiti who have been affected by the earthquake, and who are now dealing with the cholera outbreak. That’s why I’m in medical school, to go down and help in third-world countries,” Rigaud said.

The money raised by SNMA will go directly to MADRE to offset the cost of protecting women and children from sexual violence in aid camps in Haiti. The MCG students’ contribution should sponsor 28 women.


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