Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering RMU Students 2 Years Later

On Jan. 22, 2008, two years ago to date, an off-campus apartment of Robert Morris University was transformed from a friendly study group to a blood bath.

Students Jonathan “Gillie” Gilbert, 22, Michael “Fudd” Tatolovich, 20, and Michelle Machusko, 20, were gathered around a computer for session of studying and socialization. Within minutes, laughter was replaced by screams as H. Paul Visnansky entered the room. He opened fire on the three students.

A cell phone fell to the floor as a friend heard the last words of Tatolovich. He rushed toward the back door in a feverish attempt to save his own life, but was shot down within inches of his goal. Visnansky shot multiple rounds into Gilbert, who fell to the floor, dead. Beside Gilbert, Visnansky pressed the head of his fiancĂ©e into the floor. Machusko, was shot seven times. 

Machusko suffered severe injuries, but survived to sustain paralysis on her right side. She was the only survivor. Her injuries destroyed her dreams of graduation and ballet.

Visnansky was arrested when he jumped from the window that Tatolovich missed by moments. Visnansky landed on the ground with his weapon, a .357 Magnum, still in hand. He told police officers that he had killed three in the room.
The only recollection Visnansky gave of the incident was that “the gun powder smelled really bad." Police reported that Visnansky was laughing and grinning in the backseat of the police car.

Though some accounts reported that Tatolovich and Gilbert were strangers to Visnansky, friends have reported that the four spent time together.

Gilbert was a sophomore elementary education major at Robert Morris. He transferred from the Community College of Beaver County in 2007.
He was the only child of Lorraine Gilbert, who was planning to celebrate his 23rd birthday with him in less than two weeks.

Gilbert worked in the campus daycare center, where he and the children shared a mutual love of life. The children called him “Mr. Jonathan,” and gave him his first and final experience impacting young lives.

Gilbert had a contagious energy and natural light. His enthusiasm, humor, and childish innocence set him apart from his peers. He left a mark with the children, his friends and family, and everyone that ever came in contact with him long enough to hear his infectious laugh.

Gilbert left a permanent mark on the world with his art. He was a member of The Organization of the Arts for Awareness and Change, and acted in the Organization's production, titled, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday.”

The production was founded on the words of Stephen Covey, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” This message resonates deeply in the tragically concluding act of these innocent victims.

 Tatolovich was a friend of Gilbert's since high school and his roommate in college. His legacy was established by his family, who are rekindling the warmth of his friendly and selfless lifestyle with a memorial scholarship dedicated to his honor and memory.

The Tatolovich family, of Center Twp., is well-known throughout their hometown. The family owns funeral homes established in Center, Aliquippa and Ambridge. The Tatolovich family has been the forerunner in providing sincere empathy to local families with lost loved ones.

Tatolovich was a popular figure as a player on the Center Area High School football team and a friendly face on campus at Robert Morris.

A death sentence was initially sought in the Visnansky trial. However, because he pleaded guilty, Visnansky was charged with two consecutive life sentences for first-degree murder, plus 20 to 40 years for attempted criminal homicide.

Lorraine Gilbert said, “I feel justice would be served if he would die.”

According to Keith Johnson, a retired prosecuting attorney, the vast majority of trials are resolved with plea bargains. He said that justice is not purely served based on facts of a crime but based on the answer to the question, “Can I win this case?”

Campus shootings are an increasing travesty in our society. According to the Associated Press, there were at least 13 fatal campus shootings between June, 2000 and February, 2008. These records are not inconclusive, as it did not include the Robert Morris shootings.

Eight of the 15 confirmed shootings in this decade occurred between April 2007 and April 2008. The shooting at RMU followed the Dusquesne University shooting of September 2006, making this the second campus massacre in the Pittsburgh area in less than two years.

Many of these fatal shootings are covered by the press for days, or even weeks. However, some, like the RMU campus shooting, seem to fall below the eye line of national coverage, and the travesty is scarcely heard outside of the immediate area.

Many locals of Pittsburgh reported that they were never even told about these shootings. Some of these are students themselves.

RMU students were not informed of the tragedy until 2 p.m. the next day, in a time in which campuses across America claimed to be tightening up security measures.

There are 19 colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area, many with multiple campuses. Measures taken against campus violence save lives. The most fundamental of these measures is awareness.

Awareness of these issues demands action, and action demands that the lives of Jonathan Gilbert, Michael Tatolovich, and many others, were not lost in vain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kiva: Loans that Change Lives

Kiva is a micro-lending organization, unique because of its mission to connect lenders directly with entrepreneurs in developing countries.

This organization was the first of its kind. Kiva is affiliated with worldwide micro-financing groups which enables individuals to loan to qualified entrepreneurs across the globe.

Lenders can make contributions as little as $25 and will be repaid according to a preset timetable, which varies by case.

The person-to-person connection of Kiva starts with a photograph. While exploring the benefits of becoming a lender, you can scroll through a list of real people in developing countries, see their faces, hear their stories, understand their needs and fulfill them.

This is Koffi Hounlessodji, a 22 year-old trained in sheetmetal work in Tojo. He seeks a loan of $1,200 to purchase supplies so that he can make stoves and doors in greater quantities.

Similar stories are posted on Kiva every day and loans are distributed, giving these hard-working individuals a chance at success and a boost to the local economy.

William Easterly, economist and author of "The White Man's Burden," writes, "Acknowledging that development happens mainly through homegrown efforts would liberate the agencies of the West from utopian goals, freeing up development workers to concentrate on more modest, doable steps to make poor people's lives better."

Kiva is an organization making doable steps. Instead of handouts, this organization allows people to help themselves and make a drastic difference in their lives and communities.

The Poverty News Blog started a lending team for Kiva. The team writes, "We want those who read the blog to take action upon what they read."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Way to Help in Haiti

I was just observing my ads, and noticed the one to the left, "Save a Shirt, Buy a Life." I thought it sounded cool, and discovered another way to help in Haiti. The organizations sponsoring the ad is donating meals in Haiti for 17 cents each. They also have some very cool t-shirts. The shirts have a message on the front for a specific cause, from human trafficking to homelessness. They even have a shirt for Haiti earthquake relief. The product description shows what you're buying for others in addition to the t-shirt. I think it's quite clever.
If the ad isn't shown, go here. If it is, please just use the link from the sidebar.

Earthquake in Haiti

I'm delaying my Mali series to cover the earthquake in Haiti that struck Port au Prince Tuesday afternoon.

Thousands were killed and many are still buried alive in the largest earthquake to hit Haiti, recorded at 7.0 on the Richter scale. This is comparable to the California earthquake that shook the country in 1989, and 1.0 higher than the Chinese earthquake that displaced 250,000 in 2009.

Death tolls are still mere speculations, but the count could reach as high as 500,000. Port au Prince was home to 2 million people, many of them severely impoverished. Many homes were in shantytowns, far less stable than architecture of U.S. buildings constructed near fault lines.

Aftershocks continued to rock the country as wails rose from the ruins and Haitians searched through the rubble for the crushed corpses of loved ones. Dust-covered people roamed the streets. Their grey skin and hopeless gaze is hauntingly reminiscent of the living dead.

Schools, hospitals, the cathedral, parliament, and prisons were listed among the destroyed buildings. Inmates are now feared roaming the streets.

The archbishop is counted among the dead, killing the last ray of hope for many Roman Catholic Haitians.

The U.S. is launching a massive, immediate effort to help the country, alongside other aid workers from Iceland to Venezuela.                                                    

The first 24 hour period is the most crucial time for providing aid in natural disaster. You can make an emergency donation to help rescue workers find and sustain the living among the rubble.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nutrition in Mali, Africa

In the Western world, we say that no parent should ever have to lose a child. In Mali, the death of a child is a harsh expectation. The average Malian woman gives birth to 10.4 children. According to a 2004 World Health Organization report, 438 children out of 1,000 die before the age of 5. 

Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist and author of the ethnography, "Dancing Skeletons," spent years researching in Mali to determine the reasons for such a catastrophic child death rate. Her conclusion was that poor nutrition practices caused the majority of deaths.

Most organizations, however, focus on immunizations from diseases like malaria. While these vaccinations are crucial, Dettwyler writes that proper nutrition would help children survive these rampant diseases. Vaccinations save a child from disease only long enough so that they may starve later.

The practices in Mali for feeding children are a stark contrast to American customs. It is not understood by most Malians that a child must eat to grow. Malians deduce that the parent should have more food. After all, the adults did all the work, and they are bigger. Logically, wouldn't the adults need more energy? Therefore, the adults get the good food of meat and vegetables, when these luxuries are available, while the children eat millet.

In America, we say "Finish your dinner before you go out to play." In Mali, when the child stops eating, he must be full. He must have had enough to eat. If the child does not want to eat her vegetables, she doesn't have to. She must not need them. Children refusing to eat the healthy food is a worldwide phenomenon. But in Mali, there are no threats about finishing peas before dessert is served.

With these assumptions in Mali, it is futile to simply give a mother more money to buy food. Nutrition is simply misunderstood.

Dettwyler observed that the practices of organizations were improper in decreasing child death rates. One experience was prominent enough to become the title of her book. She said that she was invited to a celebration of a village that was declared stable after months of care by an organization. The children danced before her in glee, malnourished, bony bodies moving fluidly. The children, she said, looked like dancing skeletons. Success in the village was not yet achieved. Yet, the organization's workers moved on, counting another achievement.

If you want to help a child in Mali, I have one picked out for you already.

Founemakan is a 7-year-old girl in Mali. You can sponsor her through Plan USA. I recommend this organization based on personal experience. If the link doesn't send you to Founemakan, a sponsor has already chosen her. But, there are sure to be more Malian children to choose from.

I will write more on Mali very soon. Thanks so much for reading.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Malaria: The Cost of Prevention

A young African mother is caught in a nightmare. Her twin daughters are at an age where they should be learning how to form their first sentences, how to run, and how to giggle with unbridled enthusiasm.
Instead, they are dying.
Hasena did not know the name of the plague which infected her tw0-year-old daughters, much less that the carrier of the plague was less than an inch long. She only knew that her daughters were sick, and that her only chance to save them was 40 miles away. Hasena made the two-day journey with a toddler in each arm.
“When I was a few hours away from the health center, they both stopped crying. When I arrived, the nurse told me that it was too late to treat their malaria.”
I found Hasena’s quote and story, paraphrased here, at
By the time you finish reading this post, five more children will die from malaria. The majority of malaria’s victims never live to see the age of 5. Malaria deaths would significantly decrease with simple resources, such as mosquito nets and increased education. According to William Easterly, author of “The White Man’s Burden,” 5 million children would be saved from malaria by donating 4 dollars per African mother.
The prevalence of malaria is not due to a lack of resources, but rather a lack of knowledge. This ignorance is pervasive in America.
Life extends beyond the borders of America. It reaches beyond the current economic crisis, beyond pop culture, and beyond the stress of earning a paycheck. If one asks, “What’s in it for me?” the most sincere answer is blunt: Nothing.
Saving a life won’t get you a better job, and it won’t buy you a new pair of jeans. But for a child and a mother who are so far away that they may seem invisible, it will be the most precious extension of grace, granting the promise of life and a future.
Visit to donate.