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The Washington Informer: Haitian Americans Mobilize to Aid Haiti Following Quake

January 15, 2010
In The News

By Shantella Y. Sherman - WI Staff Writer   

Long before the candlelight vigil Wed., Jan 13, outside the Haitian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest, throngs of concerned Haitian Americans showed up seeking answers. Many understood that questions concerning the whereabouts of relatives living or working near Port-au-Prince during the 7.0 seismic earthquake that rocked the region, could not be definitely answered. Still, what Marie-Lisette Edouard called the Haitian spirit, brought hundreds out to offer their assistance and support to others.

"We are a proud people with a glorious past. Of course we are worried about family members who may be dead or trapped in the rubble, but we also know that no matter the devastation – in spite of the devastation, we are one family and must help each other," Edouard said. Few structures were left standing following the Tue., Jan. 12 earthquake. The city's hospital and the Presidential Palace were destroyed. Officials fear the death toll could reach 500,000, although there is no clear way to determine the number of fatalities. Haiti's President René Préval, who was not in the palace at the time of the quake, called the scene "unimaginable" and said he had no idea where he would sleep.

Haiti's Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Duly Brutus, told the Washington Informer that what Haiti needed now more than anything was immediate assistance.

"Haiti needs help from everywhere. We need medication, we need food, we need water, we need hospitals and we need for people around the globe to help. Most important is that we need it now. Those first 24-hours are critical to saving the lives of people who are trapped," Brutus said.

Geraldine Duval of the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee (GWHRC) said that the Embassy has become a virtual command center for organizing relief efforts and disseminating information following the earthquake.

"There are several organizations made up of concerned citizens volunteering their support and mobilizing efforts. The main goal is to offer a centralized location to deliver information to members of the community impacted by the aftermath," Duval said.

Organizations that comprise the local relief effort include the Association of Haitian Professionals (AHP), African Methodist Episcopal-Service and Development Agency (AME-SADA) and the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, Inc., (NOAH).

The outpouring of aid to Haiti, both monetary and structural, has been overwhelming. In fact, a humanitarian non-profit, Yele, supported by Haitian singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean, was inundated to the point of Internet collapse following Jean's call to send funds electronically.
"I see old women with large bags of rice on their heads and men on street corners selling sugarcane and mangos, all just trying to survive with a strong sense of pride," Jean said.

"Walking past a church in my village, I hear the congregation singing an appeal to God to hear their cries and grant deliverance to Haiti. Through experiences like this, I sense where my mother and my father got their strength. Now the whole country needs to reach deep into the spirit and strength that is part of our heritage," the musician and social activist said.

Others like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has worked to secure humanitarian aid and sought social justice for Haitians prior to the earthquake issued statements of support.

"I am absolutely devastated to learn of the earthquake that struck Haiti. I fear that an earthquake of this magnitude, with its subsequent aftershocks, has dealt a serious blow to the livelihoods and lives of many Haitians and to the important economic, political and social developments that are underway in the country," Waters said.

"As much as one can be at this time, I am encouraged by statements of support and solidarity from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the international community. I urge the U.S. Government, the international community, nonprofit organizations and even individuals to take all appropriate actions to respond to this earthquake and help the Haitian people recover from this terrible tragedy," the congresswoman said in a statement.

For Waters, who worked tirelessly for several years to bring debt cancellation to Haiti from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral financial institutions, the devastation also signaled the possible collapse of huge gains to end Haiti's depressed economy.

"Last June, the World Bank announced that all of these debts would be completely canceled. My heart is with the people of Haiti tonight, and I commit myself to doing everything I can to help them through this terrible disaster," Waters said.

Ambassador Raymond Joseph said Haiti asked for and secured special aid from the U.S. State Department to dispatch a team of technician's to restore communications systems in the country and allow Haitian government officials to address their citizens. The hope is that more extensive communication lines will also open, and allow communication between Haitians and relatives living outside of the country.

"I am overwhelmed by the outpouring. People have called from all sides wanting to help. The Dominican Republic, next door, with whom there have been some tense relations, were the first to come," Joseph said.

In addition to communication lines, two charter planes have been offered to members of the GWHRC to transport medical teams and supplies to Haiti, although volunteer physicians are still needed. Members of the GWHRC said that they are still looking for volunteers and continue to work in conjunction with the Haitian Embassy.
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