Magazine Feature / People

Alumna survives Haitian earthquake

Dana Beegun

DU alumna Dana Beegun survived the earthquake in Haiti. Photo: Courtesy Jose Guevara

Dana Beegun was in a basement gymnasium in Haiti when a devastating earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people.

“It wasn’t really shaking at first; it made a noise,” Beegun says. “I’m from California and I’ve been through earthquakes, but this was like nothing I have experienced before in regards to noise, shaking and hearing buildings collapse.”

She worried about her husband and toddler who were at home across the street. Fortunately, they were fine. Like many families fearing aftershocks, they spent that night outside in the street.

Beegun (MA international affairs ’97) is deputy director of the Democracy and Governance office for the United States Agency for International Development.
She was preparing for parliamentary elections at the time of the quake. Legislative polls to elect a new parliament were set for February and March; presidential elections were going to be held in fall 2010.

“Haiti has had a lot of problems in its history, but since 2008 we had seen improvements in the investment climate, security and the justice system,” Beegun says. “People were optimistic and things were looking up.”

That was before. Now, the priority is providing tents to thousands living outdoors. And the rainy season has started early. Haiti is hurricane-prone, which raises the specter of even greater disasters. Beegun says the international community is looking at the technical and policy issues involved in holding Haitian elections.

“I can’t even sum up the devastation that hit Haiti,” Beegun says. “They have a long road ahead of them, but the Haitians are very resilient people. The most important thing for the future will be to find balance between international support and government ownership of the process.”

She says her “hands-on” classes at DU’s Korbel School of International Studies and her fellowships, including one where she worked in a camp for Bosnian refugees in Croatia, helped prepare her for the work she’s doing. One of her professors at DU was Senior Lecturer Peter Van Arsdale.

“She is a bright, dynamic, hard-working person who is willing to take reasonable risks to get the toughest of jobs done, and done right, Van Arsdale says. “She also is exceedingly ethical in the work she undertakes. Her interests, as I would interpret them, effectively bridge human rights, humanitarian and development work.”

Embassy personnel were evacuated to Washington, D.C., shortly after the earthquake but Beegun insisted on going back to Haiti for a month to help out. Her next assignment starts in June in Bosnia.

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