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American Today

Student Life

Ari Katz SIS '11

By Mike Unger

Photo: John Travolta chats with Ari Katz '11.

John Travolta chats with Ari Katz '11.

Inaction wasn’t an option for Ari Katz.

The AU junior is a volunteer firefighter and former cadet in the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, so when he saw the horrific images of human suffering in Haiti following the devastating earthquake, he knew what he had to do.

That he would eventually catch a ride to Haiti as a passenger on Hollywood legend John Travolta’s plane speaks to the 20-year-old’s stubborn persistence. After inquiring about joining the relief effort with a number of organizations only to encounter dead ends, Katz simply walked to the front door of the Haitian embassy and knocked.

“They put me in contact with a woman who was putting together a trip sponsored by John Travolta,” he says. “It took a little selling, but they eventually agreed that it was a good idea.”

Katz boarded a plane from Reagan National Airport to Clearwater, Florida, where he disembarked carrying enough food and water for two weeks.

There, standing among 20 other volunteers, Katz was introduced to the pilot of the next leg of his journey—Travolta himself. “He made an effort to meet everybody there,” Katz recalls. “He was a really nice, genuine guy.”

Travolta piloted his personal 707 to Port-au-Prince, where he helped the volunteers unload supplies. Once on the ground, the chaotic nature of the situation immediately struck Katz. The Haitian embassy had asked him to coordinate security and supplies, and secure shelter for a team of doctors (and later 18 water filtration systems), but with no agency seemingly running the relief effort, he had to freelance.

“I had to hang out with people and kind of talk up my projects,” he says.

Katz managed to set up one team of doctors in a hostel and one in a soccer field, and then ventured out with another medical team to villages surrounding the city. In these towns he treated Haitians using donated bandages, saline, IVs, scalpels, antibiotics, Tylenol, and ibuprofen.

“I was helping people not only with trauma issues from the earthquake, but also primary care issues that had been neglected for years and years,” he says.

Particularly poignant was an encounter he had with a baby boy and his mother.

“He had an injured foot from the earthquake,” Katz says. “The baby was crying, you could tell he was traumatized from the whole ordeal. I didn’t do much for this kid, all I really did was clean out his foot, bandage it, and put some ointment on it. But the baby stopped crying, and you could tell the mother was thankful. I tickled the kid and he started smiling again.

“I’m extremely glad I did it,” he continues. “I had a desire to get hands-on. I felt like I connected to it a little more than just seeing it on the news.”