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Davis, California

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

UC Davis earthquake survivor organizes Haiti relief efforts

John Gunel knows how a 7.6 magnitude earthquake feels: like being on the end of a machine gun.

Gunel, a UC Davis post-baccalaureate and Davis local, was visiting in Turkey on Aug. 16, 1999 when a 37-second quake shook the northwest region of the country killing 17,000 people. Jolted from his sleep at 3:01 am, Gunel assumed his frequently promiscuous neighbors were the cause of the shaking, until he realized this time it was his bed that shook.

“When the victims were pulled from the rubble it was like they were newborn children – they were so vulnerable stretching out their hands for water and seeing light for the first time in days,” Gunel said.

Shortly after the quake, Gunel flew back to the U.S., only to return to Turkey four months later for a family visit. Gunel was shocked by the apparent lack of improvement, as thousands of victims still lived in the squalor of refugee camps.

“It was like a black hole, where people were stuck in time not moving from the camps,” Gunel said.

To boost morale at the camps, his family brought a carload of Nutella to distribute to the refugees.

Inspired to help the victims of the Turkey quake, he collected refugee children’s art and sold them as post cards when he returned to Davis.

Now, Gunel hopes to sell the same cards to raise money for victims of the Haiti earthquake. He raised $1,000 at Davis Senior High for Turkish victims. Since Jan. 12, Gunel has raised $200 for Haiti, half of which came from his own wallet.

“I needed a new watch and wanted one with fancy gadgets, but then the earthquake in Haiti happened, so I bought a Timex and contributed the rest,” Gunel said.

According to the UC Newsroom, UCLA and UCSF sent medical personnel to Haiti to help relief agencies and UCSD was the only university to raise money through a campus-wide relief effort.

By Jan. 15, three days after the Haiti quake struck, students at UCSD raised over $6,000 and 200,000 people attended a vigil held on the campus.

Although student groups have organized small events, UC Davis has not organized a campus-wide relief effort.

Three local television stations FOX 40, KOVR 1 and KCRA 3 caught wind of his postcard project and interviewed him for their broadcasts. The interviewers focused on the missing grad student in Haiti and the campus’ reaction to it more than on the postcards, Gunel said.

He hopes to give packets of his postcards to student groups on campus, sell them at the beginning of lectures and to get UCD students to break the stereotype of belonging to what he calls an apathetic generation.

Phi Beta Sigma, a community service fraternity, organized a clothing drive for Haiti held in the Memorial Union from Jan. 13-23. “Clothing drives are pretty rare,” said Damonde Hatfield, a fraternity member. “We wanted to do something different.” The fraternity collected a total of three storage boxes and hopes to sell “Hope for Haiti” t-shirts.

While those who sell his cards are welcome to donate the money to a charity of their choosing, he plans to donate his portion to Oxfam and Partners in Health.

Oxfam is an international organization, present in Haiti prior to the earthquake, which aims to reduce poverty. Partners in Health provides health care for the poor with a community based approach.

“The Red Cross does a great job of healing the wounded, but after they leave there will still be 1.5 million homeless victims,” Gunel said.

For more information visit aidconnection.com

GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


  1. The musical celebration doesn’t end on Sunday’s Grammy awards. Tons of music celebs have gathered for the remake of the “We are the World” album. I didn’t care too much for the first one, but it’s doing a bit for Haitian earthquake relief – and it isn’t as if buying one CD or DVD is going to send me running for payday loans or anything. You have to give credit to Quincy Jones for getting all those people together to do a track – it doesn’t matter how long it takes, that is an impressive effort. Does anyone know if they have Dan Aykroyd in on this one? It isn’t We Are the World if there’s no Aykroyd.

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