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Student-led UC Haiti Initiative wins president’s leadership award

A student-led effort to help rebuild Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country was chosen as the winner of this year’s UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership.

The UC Haiti Initiative, which has student members on all 10 campuses, works with the Université d’État d’Haïti, the State University of Haiti, on projects designed to reinforce the public higher education system and spur social innovation.

“The UC Haiti Initiative is an example of a promising practice not only within the UC community, but within the global community,” UC President Mark Yudof said in prepared remarks delivered by Nathan Brostrom, UC executive vice president for business operations, at last week’s UC Board of Regents meeting in Sacramento. “Its efforts stand tall in the long, distinguished tradition of public service that defines this university.”

Chancellors from UC Riverside, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara nominated UCHI for the award, and cofounders Nicolas Pascal and Noah Stern were presented with the award at the meeting May 16.

“Thanks to the support UCHI has received from the UC Office of the President and UC chancellors, UCHI has been able to establish itself as a fixture within the UC, and a positive force for change in Haiti,” said Stern, a UC Berkeley graduate and former campus student government president.

UCHI takes a novel approach to sustainable development in Haiti by brokering peer-to-peer projects in collaboration with the Université d’État d’Haïti (UEH). Through this approach, UCHI leverages the talent and resources of all University of California campuses into a bilateral partnership with the UEH community.

Students, faculty, staff and doctors from UC have traveled to Haiti on aid and development missions, and chapters of the UCHI have formed on each UC campus.

UCHI was created after an April 2010 meeting at UCSF of more than 200 UC students, faculty, staff and others interested in helping rebuild Haiti. Among the meeting organizers was Tu Tran, who then was a UC Berkeley student.

Tran said he was spurred by his family’s experience of being displaced to do something to help Haiti. He was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and might have died if it weren’t for volunteer doctors.

“If it wasn’t for Doctors Without Borders, my mother and I wouldn’t be here today,” said Tran, whose family fled Vietnam for the United States toward the end of the Vietnam War. “I was given a second chance in life.”

The experience instilled in Tran a desire to pursue a medical career so that he could help others. He is now the country coordinator for UCHI and has spent most of the last year in Haiti organizing the group’s efforts.

UCHI’s founders say they’re dedicated to help Haiti over the long haul even though they’ve all graduated from college.

See the UC Newsroom for the full story, including links to UCHI’s social networking sites.

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