Overview: Earthquake tugs South Florida’s heart
Six months after the earthquake, Haiti is on long road to recovery
Giving up hope on Haiti is just not an option for many in South Florida, even six months after a massive earthquake that killed nearly 300,000 people there.
Although 700 miles separate Port-au-Prince, Haiti from South Florida, people from all walks of life here have been touched by the catastrophe and many of them have made it a priority to continue helping a country, and a people, in desperate straits.
“They’ve all taken an interest, from elected officials to citizens; they’ve put aside differences in order to help,” said Manoucheka Thermitus, the deployment manager for the non-profit organization Konbit for Haiti.
More than 1 million people are still living in more than 1,000 camps spread over public squares, a nine-hole golf course and just about any empty spot available.
Rents on existing homes are higher than before the earthquake while electricity and water are spotty and unreliable.
Although the international community has pledged more than $5 billion toward reconstruction, only 10 percent of that money has been disbursed so far, putting in doubt President Rene Preval’s declaration the second week of July that Haiti is now moving toward reconstruction.
Local efforts are being made by organizations as diverse as churches, colleges, activist organizations, politicians, medical organizations, hospitals, just to name a few.
Konbit for Haiti not only focuses on providing support for Haitians in the Little Haiti area but also tends to those in Haiti, sending physicians there to provide medical attention to victims.
“We want to make Haiti the kind of place that people would want it to be,” said Maggie Austin, executive director of the program. “Touching someone’s life makes me proud.”
Other local groups have also jumped in to help. One of them is the youth group at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti.
“The young people of the church are organizing a back-to-school fair in Haiti and many of them will be travelling with me in August so that they can go and provide medical assistance and also distribute school supplies to students,” said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, parish priest at Notre Dame.
“We just have to pray, we just have to be active, we just have to be committed, be accountable and really do things from our hearts,” he said.
Colleges have gotten involved, too. At the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Art at Florida International University, an exhibit continues through Sept. 5 called “Tap Tap: Celebrating the Art of Haiti.”
The exhibit is meant to show pleasant images of Haiti, rather than the ones flooding the media for the past six months. The art aims to provide hope for the future of Haiti to those who visit.
“Everything is…a happy image,” said Carol Damian, the director and chief curator of the museum.
Medical professionals like Dr. Enrique Ginzburg, the chief medical officer at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, are also using their skills to help the thousands of wounded, along with those still in need of medical care.
“We’re trying to raise funds to keep it going,” he said.
As part of Project Medishare, Ginzburg and his fellow workers are not only providing medical aid to earthquake victims in Haiti, but they are also training medical staff there to provide job opportunities. In fact, just this month, they made one of their many trips to Haiti. They have recently moved their project out of their tent field hospital to a community hospital called Bernard Mevs.
“The Bernard Mevs/Project Medishare is operating the only PICU/NICU [intensive care units for babies and children] in all of Haiti,” said Jennifer Browning, communications director of Project Medishare, through an email from Port-au-Prince.
State Rep. Ronald A. Brisé is trying to make a difference on his own as well. Since news of the earthquake first reached his Blackberry, Brisé has used his influence as a politician while on his three trips to Haiti. He met with other politicians in the country in an effort to establish medical camps and then began to send medical equipment.
“The best way to affect change is to become part of it,” he said.
Other political figures in the United States are trying to get President Obama and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to expedite the process of allowing 55,000 Haitians with approved visas to make their way to the United States.
The reasoning behind their support to allow Haitians with visas to travel to the United States is that Haiti is still in crisis, with people living in cramped and unsanitary conditions and without jobs. In the United States, they believe, the new immigrants would be able to find work and earn enough money to send back to families in dire need.
North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre has introduced a resolution to that effect that was unanimously approved by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Folks have been in the pipeline for 10 years, all they want is to be reunited [with family],” he said.
Even though lives have been forever changed in Haiti, many of the earthquake’s victims have noticed a drastic change in the country as individuals from all over the world, South Florida included, have come to their aid.
“It hasn’t really changed much, but you can tell that they’ve been helped… I just wish the earthquake had never happened,” said Carl-Frederick Janvier, 17, an earthquake victim who moved to South Florida. On a recent visit to Haiti he recalled the amount of assistance the citizens of Haiti had received despite considerable infrastructure damage.
Just like Janvier, more than 2,300 students from Haiti have immigrated to Miami-Dade and Broward County schools since the earthquake. Many of these students have begun using sports as a way to cope with their ongoing struggles.
“Playing football has helped me. It gives me a reason to work hard and not fall back, to try and live for the future,” said Carl Pierre Louis, 17, who moved to Miami right after the earthquake.
“Six months is definitely a milestone, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Konbit’s Maggie Austin.
“The only thing I would ask of the South Florida community is not to forget. It’s our moral imperative.”