There is so much to write about I scarcely know where to begin
January 12th, 2012

There is so much to write about I scarcely know where to begin. That said, my office is a little like a disaster scene (see above) as I try to save my poinsettia, while it has any life left, and catch up to an already rapidly evolving semester. Having torn a muscle in my writing arm while hiking over an icy trail during the holidays hasn’t helped. That partly explains my absence from the blogosphere in the last couple of weeks. Anyhow, I’m back in the office and filing as fast as I can.

On reflection, maybe it’s inappropriate to be describing my office as a disaster scene. Haitians should be so lucky to have such a refuge. This is the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the country, as we all know, because the media have been refreshing our memories with many images of rubble and suffering. Memorial is embarking on a university-wide exercise in defining and enhancing what we are calling “community engagement.” I can think of no other more obvious example of what such engagement might look like than that of the 30 or so health care professionals from Memorial University and our regional health board who are heading to Haiti right now and in the coming weeks on a continuing mission to provide medical assistance. The vivid name for the provincial volunteer group of physicians, nurses and physiotherapists visiting the country is Team Broken Earth. Excellent description, don’t you think?

It’s hard not to be proud of our medical school. The dean—who is in Haiti as I type this—has enthusiastically supported an initiative to set up a formal elective for Haiti. The idea is that one or two medical students a year could apply and spend a week in Haiti by doing various rotations in St. John’s. The Haiti elective could also be used as an epidemiology research project. It seems like such a no-brainer element of medical training, but to date no other Canadian university has moved in the direction of formalizing a relationship with a developing nation. Haiti’s profound infrastructure problems, aggravated by the earthquake, make this initiative particularly urgent. It’s safe to say the on-the-ground conditions in Port au Prince bear no resemblance to the emergency room on Grey’s Anatomy.

The earthquake leveled that capital city, killing 200,000 people and leaving more than a million people homeless. It’s hard to fathom the medical needs of such a disaster. CBC in particular has been sensitive and attentive to the medical mission, interviewing the local lead doctors of Team Broken Earth who have spoken eloquently and in unvarnished terms about the realities they know they will face. Some have been to Haiti half a dozen times already, and well know what they are returning to. It’s all very humbling.

Needless to say, the feeble infrastructure that supported post-secondary education in Haiti was also leveled by the earthquake. Think of labs and equipment crumbling to dust in the matter of minutes. These would not necessarily be high priority recovery items. Today, by all accounts, some semblance of university-level education is being carried out, but there is a long way to go. I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking of initiatives similar to the medical mission, setting up classrooms — at least in the capital city — committing to delivering courses across the spectrum in one or both of our own official languages. Memorial’s definition of community engagement might very well extend to such possibilities. There are only good reasons for thinking this way.

I’ll be attending a benefit tomorrow night to aid Team Broken Earth. It’s another example of the creativity of this effort, and of the generous volunteer sector that makes it happen. Squeezing as many puns and local allusions into a name for the benefit was a challenge, but the organizers managed brilliantly by coming up with ‘Rock Op.’ I don’t know yet how many people are going, but those who are will be treated to the live music of Great Big Sea and Haitian-inspired food prepared by some of the best chefs in Canada. I can’t think of a better way to mark the new year than by supporting this noble mission.

Bring on the goat.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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