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After losing her father in the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, Nathalie Jolivert decided to return to Providence. The third-year student at the Rhode Island School of Design will take on a full load of architecture classes when RISD commences its spring semester Feb. 22.

Jolivert was interning in Haiti during the earthquake with her father, an engineer, and working to design flexible office space that could be easily converted into apartments. She is studying to become an architect, she said, to build up her native country.

"I do spend a lot of my free time trying to promote Haitian culture," Jolivert said.

She and her younger sister left Haiti in 2005, a little more than a year after a coup d'etat removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power. She said she and her sister left Haiti while her parents stayed behind because conditions on the street had become very dangerous. Since then, she has organized numerous volunteer trips to Haiti, both as a high school and college student. Jolivert helped plan an alternative spring break trip that was supposed to go to Haiti this year, but has been cancelled because of the quake.

Jolivert also spent her winter vacations in Haiti, where she worked directly with her father in previous years. But because her duties this January involved staying in the office, she was not with him when he went to a school directly on the fault line to begin planning renovations. The building collapsed during the quake, killing him and 200 students and teachers, Jolivert said.

"We didn't know until the second day," Jolivert said of her father's death. "It was hard for us to find him."

It wasn't until Jolivert's older sister called her father's cell phone — and a nun answered to explained what happened — that Jolivert learned of the collapse.

"Trying to find his body was another problem," said Jolivert. "There was no real time to mourn."

Jolivert's mother, a physician, eventually located the body at a morgue, but she had to leave Haiti before his funeral service was held.

Jolivert and her mother — who broke her foot during the earthquake — went to Florida the week after the disaster and stayed there for seven days. "All the week before coming here, I was mostly taking care of my mom," Jolivert said.

She returned to campus Jan. 29. But because RISD is still in winter session, she will not begin classes until Feb. 22.

"I know that I need to be ready to go back. The faster I can get my education, the more ready I'll be," said Jolivert, explaining why she had decided to return to school immediately. She said she wants to complete her studies as quickly as possible, so that she will be able to begin building projects in her home country when she graduates from RISD's five-year architecture program in 2012. "I want to be prepared," she said.

Jolivert said that she has felt support from the RISD community and that both the Office of Multicultural Affairs and counseling services have made themselves available to her.

"There is no normal process for students who lose a parent," Damion Vania, a counselor at RISD's Student Development and Counseling Services, said. "We're just available."

He explained that RISD, unlike Brown, offers its students unlimited counseling sessions and has no waiting list for appointments.

Jolivert expects to continue devoting herself to relief and building efforts in Haiti, and plans to return to the country this summer through a cousin's architecture firm in New York.

She said the support for Haiti from both Brown and RISD has helped raise her spirits.

"It was surprising to see how active the community has been," Jolivert said. She warned against thinking about the crisis in the short term and instead advocated working on longer programs to make substantive, enduring improvements in the country.

"I think there is a big need of collaborating," Jolivert added. "I'm afraid of politics going into it."

Even though she's back at school, Jolivert is still trying to come to terms with her father's death, but she said in some ways, it is easier to be at RISD while she goes through the grieving process.

"It's actually harder when you're not doing anything," she said.


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