Karen Ashmore, second from left, with Dr Marie Racine, second from right, a Lambi Fund board member and University of the District of Columbia professor. Ashmore and Racine were visiting in Nava, Haiti last year with women who built a successful fish farm with the help of the Lambi Fund.
In the first days following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, Josef Korbel School master's candidate Karen Ashmore acted as a vital communications link to news organizations and concerned citizens around the world as word of the disaster spread. Here's her amazing story.
What's the best thing the Josef Korbel School community can do to help?
Continue to help raise awareness and funds for Lambi Fund of Haiti. Korbel students have been phenomenal in reaching out and helping. The great thing is that Korbel students immediately understand the need for long-term recovery and grassroots, sustainable development -- they have learned its importance in their classes! Keep up with our activities by becoming a fan on our Lambi Fund Facebook page; following us on Twitter; or checking our web site.
We also have several Korbel interns who are making a big difference, especially Sarah
Leavitt, Stuart King, Andrea Morley, James Melena and Katie Murphy. I found out about
the earthquake minutes after it happened and Sarah immediately helped establish Lambi
Fund as a global leader by tweeting updates and news.
Communication was hard at first because phone lines were down and, for the first few days, Lambi Fund tweets and Facebook updates were the only source of news people had. We tried to publish the real news from the people's perspective. Media outlets from all over the world were, and still are, calling and emailing Lambi Fund for info. I just want to make sure that people don't forget Haiti because, like the Katrina disaster, it is going to take years to recover.
Last week you were waiting for word on your Haiti staff. Please give us an update on their status.
Fortunately everyone on our advisory board and staff survived! A few bumps and bruises, but they are OK. Sadly, everyone has lost family members and many of our grassroots peers lost their lives in the quake.
Our office building is still standing and is being used as a temporary shelter. Our staff is meeting as we speak to prioritize the needs for recovery. There is currently a huge out migration of earthquake survivors from Port au Prince to the rural communities, straining the capacity of the rural villages to meet the increased demand. The communities have been hit hard, because many have lost loved ones. The rural areas are in need of immediate relief -- resources to feed and shelter displaced persons. Lambi staff are discussing ways emergency assistance can be delivered to these communities. But we are also focusing on how to sustain the needs for the long term as we work with grassroots groups to rebuild and strengthen sustainable development in the rural areas.
What is your major at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies? When did you start and when do you hope to graduate?
I am majoring in global studies* (see editor's note below). I started in September 2008. I take one class a quarter because I work full time for the Lambi Fund. I hope to earn my master's degree in May 2011. I hope my advisor, Susan Rivera, agrees with that -- LOL! She has been very supportive throughout my academic career and during the earthquake crisis.
Why did you choose the Josef Korbel School?
The Lambi Fund board of directors, who are predominantly highly educated Haitian Americans, had been encouraging me to pursue educational and leadership opportunities for professional development. I was considering a non-profit leadership institute or a master's degree in international studies. I was on a plane to Haiti reading Foreign Policy Magazine when I saw an ad that said the University of Denver had one of the best international studies schools in the country. I was astounded! Right in my own back yard! Immediately I applied because it was near the deadline. I was thrilled when I got my acceptance letter. Also, a close colleague, Nikhil Aziz, executive director of Grassroots International, got his Ph.D. at the Josef Korbel School. He has been very encouraging about my education, along with fellow student Figaro Joseph, who is Ph.D. candidate at Josef Korbel School.
What is the source of your deep love for Haiti?
My husband and I adopted two daughters from an orphanage in Haiti so we have a lifetime commitment to Haiti. When we went to Haiti in 2001 to get our daughter Jasmine, we knew we had to do something about the dire poverty. We are believers in social change, not charity, so I researched groups working for social and economic justice and Lambi Fund was head-and-shoulders above the rest.
We became major donors and I did some volunteering and consulting for Lambi Fund. When the previous executive director resigned, I applied for the position and have been managing the administrative side of Lambi Fund for the past six years. We found Jasmine's birth sister, Tamara, and adopted her in 2004. I have six children, all in their 20s, except Jasmine, who is now 13, and Tamara, who is now 10. I travel to Haiti several times a year and try to schedule my trips between quarters at the University of Denver but it does not always work out that way :-). When I do miss class because I am in Haiti, I do an extra on-the-ground report for my class.
Has your Korbel experience come into play as the events of the last week have unfolded?
Absolutely. Because I only take one class a quarter, I screen the professor before I sign up for a class to make sure the course is going to be a good match for my professional goals. I have learned so much from Sally Hamilton, Mark Smith, Alan Gilbert and Tom Laetz. What I have learned from them has helped inform the rapid decisions I have had to make in responding to this crisis. It has been a stressful and chaotic week, and also, students from Korbel have helped by volunteering, conducting fundraisers, attending events, spreading awareness and giving hugs! Korbel is like family with the solidarity and outpouring of compassion they have expressed in coming together to help out in this crisis.
How did Lambi Fund get its name?
The Lambi Fund draws its name from the lambi (pronounced lahm-bee), the Haitian Creole word for conch shell, which was blown as a horn and used during the slave rebellion against the French colonialists in 1791 to alert the slaves to impending danger and the need to assemble. The symbol of the lambi was chosen to represent the Haitian people?s hope, strength, resistance and struggle for self-determination.
* Editor's note: The global studies degree program no longer is offered to new students.