On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This initial quake, along with the 52 strong aftershocks occurring in the following 12 days, left Port-au-Prince, Leogane, Jacmel, and other communities in the region severely damaged. Over 250,000 people died in the earthquake and over one million people have been left homeless.

The United States’ response to the earthquake in Haiti was immediate and generous. Within days of the quake, over 20,000 U.S. civilian and military personnel were in Haiti directly engaged in the rescue efforts. The US government pledged $100 million to the rebuilding, and Americans donated over $1.5 billion to relief organizations working in Haiti.

On campuses across the United States, university students also contributed to this cause. Through fundraising, supply drives, educational forums and cultural events – students organized to aid in the relief efforts.

However, many college students wanted to do more, and in the months following the earthquake, students were traveling to Haiti in hopes of offering “hands on” aid. With their resources to handle volunteers at capacity, many nongovernmental organizations were turning away volunteers, and others criticized well-meaning, but uneducated visitors for burdening a system already struggling to support its residents.

As a way to streamline the higher education response to the earthquake, the Haiti Compact was formed by five universities and Break Away, the national nonprofit for alternative breaks. The Compact’s mission is to be at the forefront in responding to the outpouring of support for Haiti in a sustained and responsible way. Break Away and campus alternative break programs are uniquely positioned as organizations that support student leaders, to circulate their talent and service to other communities. These campus programs will use alternative breaks as an activity-based platform for actualizing leadership and service back home; to lead a higher education initiative to engage in rebuilding Haiti.

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