Joanne Joseph grapples with reading and watching news reports of Haiti's earthquake.
On one hand, it helps the Modesto Junior College student get updates on her homeland and the devastating aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude temblor. On the other, the news reminds her of the possible fate of her family and friends.
Red Cross officials estimate that more than 45,000 people died in Tuesday's quake, and many more are left without basic needs such as medical care, water and food. Joseph, 26, has not spoken to any of her family members and does not know their whereabouts.
She attends classes to keep from sitting at home dwelling on the unknown, but once in class, all her mind focuses on is Haiti.
"I came here to go back and help, and now there is no more country," Joseph said Wednesday, describing the stress the unknown is creating.
She and two other Haitians — Graciane Mathieu, 23, and Carline Paul, 22 — are studying agriculture business at MJC on a scholarship that provides education to foreign students from developing countries so they can return home and improve the quality of life for their nation.
They have not seen their families since August 2008 when they traveled 3,200 miles to Modesto. They'll return to Haiti in June with new sets of skills and knowledge to help the agriculture-based country.
The earthquake's chaos drives home the importance of their studies. "We are the future for Haiti now," Mathieu said.
Right now, they want to know if their families and friends survived the deadly earthquake.
Paul has traded cell phone text messages with her brother, but hasn't heard from him in a few days. She also talked with her uncle, who said everyone in her family was OK.
"I don't know to believe him — I keep thinking 'is he hiding something to keep me from worrying?' " she said. She's from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, which experienced tremendous destruction.
Elizabeth Orozco-Wittke, manager of MJC's international contract programs, has spent the past two days dialing numbers to find the women's families. She reached Joseph's mother and chatted with her, but by the time Joseph got to Orozco-Wittke's office, her mom's line had been disconnected.
Other officials with the international program — including those in Haiti — are working feverishly to contact family members of Haitian students studying abroad.
And even if their family members survived, reports are that it's difficult to find food and water, and doctors to help those who are injured, which adds to the students' fears, Orozco- Wittke said.
"I know medical assistance is a problem," Mathieu said. "Each time I look (at the news), it's scary. I don't know anything about my family. They don't have any water, they don't have anything. I don't know how to rebuild our country."
MJC's instructors and counselors have been comforting and understanding. And Joseph, Mathieu and Paul said they are very glad and fortunate to be studying in the United States.
They urged people to donate to Haiti's relief efforts.
"Natural catastrophes could happen anywhere. Think about that — it could happen to you," Joseph said. "I think we need some prayers. If people can't give anything, they can pray for us."
The MJC Foundation has set up a fund for the students and their families; to donate, call 575-6068.