Haiti experience comes to UNI classroom

Michele Devlin, a University of Northern Iowa professor and director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, was selected through a national competitive process to become a disaster relief team member for the International Red Cross and spent two weeks serving in earthquake ravaged Haiti this summer.

 "We worked with a lot of the Red Cross teams in Port-au-Prince to provide shelter, water, healthcare and related relief services," she said. "We learned a great deal from them."

TentsAccording to Devlin, 1.5 million Haitians are homeless and living in tents. The tents are overcrowded and in horrible condition -- sometimes seven or more people are living in one tent.

 "I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing this kind of thing," she said. "I was really amazed and impressed by the level of resiliency of the Haitian people. They're survivors. They're achievers. It's incredible to see how they are working to cope with this disaster. I was humbled being able to work with them."

Devlin will bring her experiences with the International Red Cross back to the UNI community. She helps administer UNI's expanded initiative on migrant studies, and her work relates closely with its focus on displaced populations.  

"We want to take this back into the classroom so students and other faculty can learn," she said. "We will do training, speeches and workshops because it's becoming more and more critical to learn about these international issues and human migration."

In Devlin's eyes, students need to take what they learn at UNI and on the local level, and apply it practically after college on a global scale.

Devlin is a doctor of public health who specializes in refugee, displaced and migrant populations. She volunteered with the American Red Cross of Black Hawk and Los Angeles Counties before being selected as a member of the International Red Cross team.

Only about 25 humanitarian relief specialists from across the U.S. were chosen this year to receive training and become International Red Cross team members. Devlin was the only Iowan to join the ranks of these prestigious health officials. She will continue her work as a regular member of the International Red Cross Disaster Relief Unit, and will be called to participate in at least one major global disaster or mass refugee crisis each year.

"It's really exciting to be a part of the team," she said. "It's truly a wonderful and exceptionally skilled group of colleagues that I have met."