Student Loses 15 Family Members in Haitian Earthquake, Heads Home to Help

Will coordinate family aid and distribute solar cookers to affected Haitians

Release Date: January 20, 2010 This content is archived.


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UB doctoral student Samarth Joseph is returning to Haiti to help family members who survived the earthquake and distribute solar cookers to residents.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- She lost 15 family members in the Haitian earthquake, but Samarth Joseph, a Haitian-born PhD student in the University at Buffalo Department of Geography, plans to be back on the island by the end of the week to help her homeless family members and to distribute solar cookers to residents.

Her transportation will be funded by donations from UB faculty members, staff members and her fellow students. A Haitian-based aid organization will fly her into the Dominican Republic, from where she will drive to several sites in Haiti to help family members and distribute the cooking equipment from Solar Liberty Foundation of Williamsville, N.Y., which will also help fund her efforts.

Joseph, now living in Buffalo, N.Y., is scheduled to receive her doctorate in May. She has a lot on her plate right now.

"I've received texts from family members living in and near Port-au-Prince. Three haven't been found yet," she says. "One told me the smell is terrible, bodies are being burned and says he is dying because there is no water, no food. Although the aftershocks have subsided, he told me people are still shaking inside. It is an awful, awful situation, as we know.

"My parents live in New York City," Joseph says, "but many very close family members, including aunts and uncles and cousins, were killed. I knew them, and even stayed with them last April when I was in Haiti doing economic development research for my dissertation," she says.

Joseph's fiancé, a Haitian electrical engineer, was injured in the quake and can't get out of the country.

"He was supposed to visit me through May, but a minor paperwork issue held up his departure. Then the quake hit and the problem can't be resolved now because of the destruction of records and offices. I have to help him, too," says Joseph, who plans to initiate an intervention on his behalf through contacts in Washington, D.C.

When she goes to Haiti, Joseph will take with her solar cookers made available by the Solar Liberty Foundation, which provides renewable energy resources to people in less-developed nations.

UB alumna Paige Mecca (MSW '98, JD '99), executive director of the foundation, says the relief effort in Haiti is the current focus of the foundation, which operates other solar electrification programs in that country, including one that is powering a field clinic operated by the international U.S.-based aid agency Partners In Health. She explains that solar cookers can be used to sterilize water, as well as cook food, and that the foundation is working with another organization to provide pre-packaged meals that can be prepared using the cooker.

A tax-deductable donation can be made to the Solar Liberty Foundation at to help defray the $100 cost of each solar cooker. Partners In Health is accepting donations at

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