In the wake of a devastating earthquake that hit the island nation in January, Haiti will look toward the future Saturday with its first presidential debate – one students won’t have to find a passport to attend.

The debate will be held at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, though originally students wanted to host the event at USF.

“USF wanted us to postpone the event because they were not ready to do it at that time,” said Daniel Thelusmar, president of Heart to Heart Caribbean Ministry, Inc. and organizer of the forum. “But we cannot postpone it due to the fact that after November it would be very difficult to get (the presidential candidates) out of Haiti. We have to do it right now … That’s why we are at (Eckerd).”

Campaigning for the office officially begins Saturday, with Election Day set for Nov. 28., he said, meaning the event could not be pushed back.

Despite providing a more convenient time for the debate, hosting the event at Eckerd College has posed different problems.

“Having the event at (Eckerd) is costing us more money,” Thelusmar said. “It’s probably going to cost us $2,000 to $3,000 more. Also, in Tampa we have (a larger) Haitian population. It’s also (going to) affect the traveling. The candidates are going to have to go from Tampa to St. Pete and then back to Tampa.”

He said there are a total of 19 candidates, but only 10 have agreed to attend the debate.

Nine USF organizations have contributed to the planning of the debate, including the Caribbean Cultural Exchange, Phi Beta Sigma, Black Student Union, Club Creole, African Students Association and Alpha Phi Alpha, among others.

“I remember when the earthquake hit, everyone was all about Haiti,” student body President Cesar Hernandez said. “I don’t know what happened to all of those people, but now we actually have the opportunity to directly help the Haitian people and manufacture hope for an entire nation.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Eckerd’s Fox Hall from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on WMNF 88.5 FM on more than 160 stations nationally, including several in Haiti.