Hearts in the right place

Many organizations are sending money, blood and supplies to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti, but one UVM professor believes that the most important type of aid has gone unaddressed. CDAE professor Dr. Chyi-Lyi (Kathleen) Liang said she wants to provide orphaned and stranded Haitian children with a positive message to give them a little emotional support.”I asked my students ‘Why don’t we do something for the children?’ and we just dreamed up this idea of One Heart to Haiti,” Liang said.The purpose of the project is to make cards in the shape of hearts that carry a positive message to be sent to the children of Haiti, she said.”They need to see something from another side of the world, from a different country, from another child,” Liang said. Liang said she is also collecting small school supplies that are easy to transport with the paper hearts to aid the children once the schools are rebuilt.International nonprofit organization Pure Water for the World has volunteered to transport all of the hearts, Liang said. Liang is also teaming up with the Vermont Haiti Project — along with other organizations in states as far away as California — to get the word and the shipments out, she said.”Now we have New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Oklahoma and some other states. They’re all doing it,” Liang said. “It was started on Tuesday! This is Friday and I already have different states and people becoming involved. The message is getting out.” The student-operated store Growing Vermont is one of the many UVM groups getting involved.”The students were excited about the opportunity to be of service,” Growing Vermont manager Gwen Pokalo said. “One Heart to Haiti helps with our mission to help build communities.” The store has offered discounts to those contributing to the project — 15 percent off for making a heart, 30 percent off for donating school supplies, Pokalo said.Growing Vermont has collected between 50 and 100 paper cards so far, and the boxes in Liang’s office have received hundreds, she said.”It takes time, and that’s all right. We’ll give whatever we have and just send it to children one box at a time,” Liang said. Liang said she doesn’t see the efforts ending anytime soon.”We want to do this in the long term. We don’t want to send a gigantic box and then it’s done,” Dr. Liang said. “They need supplies, they need stuff, but they need it constantly. It’s not just because of this earthquake. They need it all the time.”Pokalo agreed. “This doesn’t just go away,” she said. “We’re still cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina.”  Nevertheless, I’m excited for the potential of this program, she said.  Some students are less optimistic.”I think it is a good idea but I don’t know how much it would help them,” freshman Seth Rebeor said. “They need more than just cards with emotional support. Money or water or food, just something that would help. Anything that would help, really.”However, Liang said she feels every type of contribution is valuable.”Everyone is chipping in money already, but there are other important things,” she said. “I know it’s not food, it’s not water, but it’s for a different purpose.”Liang said she hopes that the Valentine’s Day spirit will jump-start the level of student involvement. “Valentine’s Day is not just about lovers, it’s about sharing the love with everybody. We share love with others who are totally suffering at this point,” Liang said. “Everybody can draw a heart. And everybody is encouraged to.”The exact future of One Heart to Haiti is unknown. “All I hope to see is more hearts in that box,” Liang said.