Alumni and Students Reach Out to Help Haiti

January 26, 2010
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

Harvard Kennedy School alumni and students are drawing on their education in the importance of public service by reaching out to Haiti at this crucial and difficult time. Whether on the ground in Port-au-Prince, the Dominican Republic or from the United States, alumni are contributing significant support and resources to the devastated country.

The “Denise” Project

Rene Aubry, MC/MPA 2009, is no stranger to loss, having lost both parents by age 20 and, a little later, a brother. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Haitian-born Aubry, who moved to New York at age seven, felt the need to reach out and help after the earthquake in Haiti.

Aubry, with a group of eight Harvard Kennedy School alumni and students, formed an organization to help with aid and named it after his mother: Denise. Within a few short days after the earthquake, the organization was able to raise about $20,000, partner with JetBlue to get free flights for medical professionals, find and transport medical volunteers to safe houses in the Port-au-Prince region and much more. Aubry said they have not had to do much outreach for volunteers or help – people have been coming to them.

“We haven’t done much push, honestly. It’s been almost exclusively people who’ve e-mailed me out of the blue,” said Aubry. “People started hearing about our arrangement with JetBlue, they started hearing that we got people on the ground within a day or two of this thing happening, and they really came to us.”

Through a series of connections in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Denise doctors and nurses were able to set up a shuttle system wherein volunteers are flown from New York to the Dominican Republic, shuttled to the border of Haiti, handed off to another volunteer, shuttled to safe houses around Port-au-Prince and then are put to work where they can help.

Aubry praised the team of Denise volunteers, who hail from all over the world, and noted how they have taught him about the hearts of people who are not Haitian but have given their time and efforts as if they were.

“These folks don’t really have the ties to Haiti that I have and so their motivation, I assumed, was different. I assumed it was humanitarian or philosophical,” said Aubry. However, when he asked a fellow Denise worker who comes from India why she was doing this, Aubry said he was humbled by her response. “She looked at me and she said ‘You know, Rene, I literally don’t see a difference between someone in Haiti and someone in India.’ Now, I’ve said that philosophically, I’ve said that intellectually, but I don’t know that I ever got that in my bones.”

Aubry, also an alumni of Columbia’s Law and Business Schools, will leave for Haiti early this week to assess how Denise can transition from an emergency relief organization to an entity that can assist with the later phases of the effort to rebuild his country.

“This is the work of my life,” he said. “I want to make Haiti whole, again.”

As well as Aubry, the Denise organization includes Sonu Chhina MPA 2009, Kirstin Broderick MPA 2008, Mila Ioncheva MC/MPA 2009, Naniette Coleman MPA 2010, Lisa Frist joint MPP/Sloan MBA 2011, Laura Rudert MPP 2008, Yessenia Mejia MPP 2008. Key members of the team also include non-HKS volunteers Alexis Curtis, Terry Boucard and Candice Mondesir.

For those wishing to collaborate with Rene Aubry and the volunteers of “Denise,” please write to . "Denise" blog can be found here:

Bringing Medical Aid to Haiti, Refugees in Dominican Republic

Col. Itzik Kreiss MC/MPA 2007 of the Israel Defense Forces has been appointed commander of the Israeli emergency relief field hospital in Haiti. Kreiss, an internal medicine doctor, is commanding a team of around 250 people in Haiti who set up a field hospital within eight hours of arriving on the ground.

Speaking to Israel News last week, Kreiss said that within hours of arriving they had performed two life-saving operations and treated more than 50 people.

Dave Callaway MC/MPA 2009 founded and co-directs the Operational Medicine Institute (OMI), affiliated with Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians. OMI, which provides critical mission support and training to medical personnel, humanitarians, first responders and disaster response teams, is part of a UN-lead group treating Haitian refugees in Jimani (a crossroads for those making their way to the Dominican Republic).

Also in the OMI team in Jimani are Elizabeth Cote MPP 2009 and current HKS student Seth Moulton MPA 2010. The team is keeping a detailed blog at

Other alumni contributing to the efforts in Haiti include Julius Fondong MC/MPA 2003 who is working at the UN Mission and Dugald McConnell MPA 2003, a producer at the Washington, D.C., bureau of CNN who has been on the ground with a film crew to bear witness to the devastation. Rob Schultz MC/MPA 2009 is on the ground with U.S. Southern Command. Yann Fischer MC/MPA 2009 is there with the UN.

Student Bill Forry MC/MPA 2010 is managing editor of the Boston Haitian Reporter - a monthly newspaper for New England's Haitian-American community. The publication's Web site is serving as a key point of information for local Haitian-Americans.

If you are an HKS alumnus/alumna or student contributing to the Haiti relief efforts, please let us know:


A couple takes care of their child with a broken arm and leg at a makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince January 16, 2010. Photo credit, Jorge Silva/Reuters.

“This is the work of my life. I want to make Haiti whole, again.” - Rene Aubry MC/MPA 2009

Col. Itzik Kreiss

Col. Itzik Kreiss MC/MPA 2007, (left) commander of the Israeli emergency relief field hospital in Haiti, helps a small girl. Photo provided.

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