People, Profiles

Berkeley undergrad takes action to help Haiti

Freshman Michael Bloch is using the far reach of Facebook to mobilize UC Berkeley students to aid earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti.

It didn’t take long for Michael Bloch to know he wanted to help the people affected by the disaster in Haiti. So the Berkeley freshman created a Facebook page to focus campus attention on the relief effort, and invited 100 of his friends from the social-networking site to join. Within 24 hours, nearly 1,100 people had become members of Haiti Earthquake Relief – UC Berkeley. By Tuesday, Jan. 19, the number had swelled to more than 2,500.

Michael Bloch

Michael Bloch (Wendy Edelstein/NewsCenter photo)

“It feels good to be doing something” to address the catastrophe, says Bloch, who is planning to double-major in political science and pre-business. Along with links to disaster-relief organizations — Save the Children, International Medical Corps, World Food Programme, Operation USA, and YELE Haiti (musician Wyclef Jean’s charity) — the Facebook page is providing a forum for students to share resources on ways to assist Haiti beyond donating money. Several students plan to take the semester off to aid in the relief effort.

Although Bloch is new to helping with natural disasters, he’s an old hand at social media. “I know a lot about how to market sites and get people to come together to do things,” says Bloch, who has interned at Sun Microsystems and 23andMe, a personal-genetics company.

To keep Haiti foremost in the campus community’s awareness, he has organized a weeklong event set to begin Friday, Jan. 29. Student organizations from across the campus — including Cal University Health Coalition, Associated Students of the University of California, Do Something, Humanitarian Undergraduates for Global Service, Unicef at Cal, American Red Cross at Cal, faith-based groups, and the Greek councils — will table together on Upper Sproul Plaza during the week to provide information about Haiti and ways to make a meaningful donation.

During the week, Bloch will be selling wristbands as a fundraiser for the Haiti earthquake-relief effort and posting oversized photos on Sproul Plaza to spur people to donate.

The week will culminate in a Haiti-themed event on Friday, Feb. 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Savio Steps featuring guest speakers from the campus and beyond.

Bloch is far from alone in his efforts. Students across the country are rallying to address Haiti’s enormous need. The ASUC is engaging in a friendly competition with other universities to see which institutions can raise the most money for Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that works to bring modern medical care to poor nations. Berkeley is facing off against Stanford, Dartmouth, CalTech, and Washington University in St. Louis. The ASUC notes that if every Cal student kicked in $5, donations would reach $170,000.