Taking care of family, 700 miles away
Relatives in South Florida do their part
In Fort Pierce, the Rev. Marie Bernadette Etienne has faced the same daunting challenges after losing 26 relatives. She has sold her personal possessions to help out.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitian Americans are sacrificing to help their families and other victims from the Jan. 12 earthquake. They are stretched thin as they send money home – precious dollars they can ill afford. Still, they give. They say there is no alternative.
Lubin, for instance, is looking for a second job so he can send more money home. At least for now, he has given up saving money so he can go to school to become an electrician.
“I had about $7,000 saved and now I practically have nothing,” he said.
Instead, he is concentrating on helping his family, which now consists mostly of children.
“When I was coming to the United States, I promised them I wouldn’t forget them,” said Lubin, who emigrated from Haiti when he was 16. “I dedicate my life to them.”
His mother is concerned that he is spending too much on the kids instead of worrying about his future. Lubin says that he prefers to help the children rather than have the money for himself.
“She wants me to worry about my life instead of taking care of those kids,” Lubin said. “What is the point of saving the money when all these people need help?”
Immediately after he heard of the earthquake, he traveled to Haiti. There, he saw children left homeless and orphaned while hordes of hungry people searched for food.
“I won’t let that happen to my family,” he said.
Damage from the earthquake forced his extended family to move from a ravaged Port-au-Prince back to their unaffected hometown of La-Tortue, an island off the northwest coast of the country. There, the family owned a three-bedroom house that 40 now call home.
“You had to see how hard it was to cook with over 40 people living in the same house,” Lubin said.
He knows what it is like to be abandoned. He was left by his mother when he was only 6 months old. His 10-year-old sister cared for him. Lubin won’t let his young cousins and other relatives be left destitute.
“We dedicate our lives to take care of each other,” Lubin said.
A strong believer, Lubin said that he has no doubt that God gave him the chance to be in a better position to help his family. He is even helping his mother who reappeared in his life one year before he came to the United States. Now disabled, she lives in Miami with Lubin.
“Everything that happens in life happens for a reason,” he said. “I just thank God for the opportunity of having a job.”
Up north in Fort Pierce, Etienne is also helping out.
She said she has sold all her personal possessions to help Haitians suffering after the earthquake.
“Until I do something I won’t be able to sleep,” Etienne said.
Until last year, she went to orphanages in Haiti each Christmas to give toys to children. In December, though, her doctor ordered her not to go because at the time she was blinded by cataracts. Since then, her condition has improved with surgery.
Her 65-year-old sister took her place on last year’s Christmas sojourn, along with her three children and a grandchild.
They still were in Haiti when the earthquake hit. They were killed along with the rest of her family.
Now her deep grief compels her to dedicate her life to helping the destitute in Haiti.
“I truly know that God put me on this earth to do good things and to serve my community,” she said.
Even though selling everything was hard, Etienne does not regret her decision.
“I was happy to do it and I am still happy,” Etienne said. “I forget myself to help others.”
Thierry Pierre-Charles is grateful that Etienne and others are helping Haitians. He is now in South Florida because of the kindness of others.
A family friend took the 16 year-old in while his parents remained in Haiti after the earthquake.
“Haitian parents, despite all the things going on, don’t want to leave Haiti,” he said, adding, “It was unexpected. One day you’re sitting down (and) living your life and the next you’re leaving your family.”
Though leaving Haiti was difficult, he now has decided he doesn’t want to go back.
“There’s no future in Haiti,” he said. “It’s an improvement coming to America.”
He is going to school and feels safer in South Florida. He is grateful for the family friend taking him in.
“I feel as much at home with her as I did living in my own house in Haiti,” Pierre-Charles said.
Pierre-Charles is grateful, though he knows that people like Etienne and Lubin don’t have vast resources.