By Michael J. ARVIZU
Retired Glendale Community College Latin American studies professor Carlos Ugalde completed a six-day, roughly 500-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to his home in Alhambra on Saturday to raise funds for the Dumay Ecovillage Project, a new housing development that will provide homes to 60 families displaced by the 2010 7.0-magnitude Haiti earthquake.
Port-au-Prince-based and non-governmental organization Servicios de Apoyo a las Comunidades (Services to Support the Communities, or SAC) is spearheading the project. The development is being constructed on a seven-acre plot of land donated by SAC founder, Haitian architect, and Ugalde’s longtime friend Leslie Michel.
Dumay is a village about seven miles east of Port-au-Prince. According to SAC’s strategic plan, each family will be allotted a 270 square meter plot of land. About 65 square meters will be used for the house itself, while the remaining 205 square meters will be utilized for sustainable farming, gardening and tree planting.
The 60 families being relocated represent the first phase of the eco-village project. The second phase is slated to accommodate an additional 40 families.
SAC’s core projects in Haiti include HIV prevention and treatment, teacher training, and assistance for orphans and vulnerable children, among others, according to its website, www.sachaiti.org.
As of Saturday, Ugalde had raised about $2,000 for the Dumay Ecovillage Project. Donors were able to contribute five cents per mile for 500 miles for a $25 donation, or 10 cents per mile for a $50 donation.
The Jan. 12 earthquake left hundreds of thousands dead; destroyed most of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and caused an estimated $8 billion to $14 billion in damage, according to the New York Times. Although it has been two-and-a-half years since the disaster, the quake’s effects are still being felt across Haiti.
While SAC’s independent work is critical to the families that have been displaced, Ugalde said, it is also critical to be able to sustain them once they get there.
“From scratch, they’re building a very sustainable little village; and we want to help them, every little bit that we can,” said Ugalde. “A lot of the money that we raised has been for nutrition programs, food, water and agriculture, and also for sanitary water projects to fight cholera.”
Cholera, Ugalde added, continues to be a threat after the earthquake.
“Clean water and hygiene are a major, major issue,” said Assn. of Latin American Students – ALAS – member Lissinia Aguilar. “With the funds that we raise at this event, we’re hoping that they can buy a tank so that they can store water and have a basic facility with toilets and showers.”
Aguilar hopes that one day the Haitian people will be able to sustain themselves without the need for external help.
“One of the things is we don’t want for them to get used to [is] just receiving,” Aguilar said. “We want to empower them. One of the organizations that we’re working with, their plan is to educate the community. We’re going to help them, but they need to know how to become independent with the resources they have and be able to continue on when the funds are no longer there.”
According to ALAS member Gerson Melgar, getting help to Haiti has also been an issue since the disaster struck. Nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross have had to face government red tape and delays in their efforts to help the Haitian people, he said.
“The problem with a lot of the organizations is that they have a very specific purpose,” said Melgar. “It’s taking a lot of hits in a very political manner, because the government is involved in giving them the permissions that they need.”
The most immediate aid comes from organizations already inside Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti, he said.
“Those who would have the intention of aiding the country have a distorted perception of the reality of the availability of funds because of the lack of information for the public on the destination of international aid,” said Michel in a May 2010 letter to Ugalde. It was this correspondence that inspired Ugalde to begin raising money for Haiti.
Another issue, Ugalde said, is awareness. Because news programming is always best when presented fresh, the Haiti earthquake stopped being front page news long ago, he said.
“To underscore: We cannot forget Haiti,” Ugalde said. “We are not going to save Haiti with our $1,500, $2,000 that we could raise,” said Ugalde. “But at least we can do our little part, our little grantio de maiz (little maize grain).”
Ugalde was the faculty adviser to ALAS, which was based out of GCC. When Ugalde retired from teaching, the club relocated to Ugalde’s home, and it is here that the organization conducts its business and plans “peñas” – Latino cultural festival fundraisers – and other events.
Because of the difficulty in organizing another peña-like event for Haiti, and being no stranger to long distance bicycle riding (the professor has ridden to and from Santa Cruz and to and from San Diego), Ugalde decided to do something different, something unlike the two Haiti fundraisers he and ALAS have already hosted that have raised roughly $7,000.
“We don’t know how many events or how much more help we can do, but in the meantime, whatever we can do to make it happen, we will, within the confinements of our possibilities,” said Melgar.
For Melgar, duplicating what Ugalde accomplished is not that far fetched, and is considering taking on the challenge.
“To me, the great motivator is what I would be doing it for, that is where the satisfaction comes in – at least for me,” he said. “It’s such a great challenge to be able to say, ‘Can I do something like this? Maybe I can. I just have to give it a try.’”