As spring break approaches, many college students will head to the beach for fun in the sun.
However, University of Wisconsin-Madison student Gergens Polynice has a different plan. Polynice will visit his home country of Haiti to assess the damages caused by the devastating earthquake that struck on Jan. 12.
"My goal is to make a difference in the lives of some people in Haiti," Polynice says, a graduate student in Latin America, Caribbean and Iberian Studies.
Polynice, who left Haiti just four hours before the earthquake to resume classes at the UW, will complete his master's degree in May. He plans to pursue his interest in sustainable development with a Ph.D. in Developmental Studies beginning next fall.
"I hope to make a difference on a small scale by creating employment opportunities for some people, implementing social programs and education," Polynice says.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people in Haiti. Polynice's immediate family -- his mother, father and three brothers -- survived without injury. He also has a sister in Canada and a brother in Kansas City.
Polynice, born in Fond-Parisien and raised in Port-Au-Prince, says the spring trip home is not just a chance to see the damage for himself, but to represent the UW community as well.
Business school students approached Polynice and requested he choose an appropriate way to directly help people on their behalf in a socially responsible manner. Polynice says he will match the $2,000 raised by 4-to-1 for a total of $2,500, which he will transport to Haiti in order to bypass non-governmental organizations (NGO's).
Polynice says that although the support on the UW campus and throughout the state is overwhelming, the efforts in Haiti are upsetting.
"The management of the relief effort funds makes me uneasy," says Polynice. "NGO's are buying new trucks and SUVs instead of administering that money to the people."
Polynice says it will take Haiti decades to recover, and maybe even longer without proper administration. He recommends Partners in Health to anybody interested in donating money because, he says, its founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, who is profiled in Tracy Kidder's book "Mountains Beyond Mountains," has established a good vision in providing health care to the poor.
But this isn't the first time Polynice has returned to help his country. After completing his bachelor and master's degrees in Computer Information Systems at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas in 1995, Polynice worked as an IT consultant before moving back to Haiti to start a water purification and ice-making company with his brother. The company has been in operation for two years and was only slightly damaged by the earthquake. His family operates the business.But Haiti has changed drastically for Polynice, a board member and frequent visitor of Madison's Troy Gardens and an amateur soccer player. Some of his fondest memories growing up in Haiti are going to public parks, riding bicycles and reading under the trees. "That is not possible right now," Polynice says. "People are living in those parks now."
Now, almost two months later, Polynice doesn't rely on the media to get updates. Instead, he calls home.
"The media did a great job staying on top of the damage and how the people were affected," he said. "But I don't have high expectations for continued coverage because I know only the stories that are hot will be covered. As an example, he cites the American missionaries detained for attempting to adopt Haitian children.
However, regardless of his frustrations with the media and fund administration, Polynice says it is natural disasters like this that bring people together and hope for a better future.