Island to island: Help for Haiti

Island to island: Help for Haiti

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Members of Young Brothers to Men are, from left, Marcus Hopkins, Trenton Brown, Grant Meacham, Drew Moreis, and Michael Araujo.

Fadnor Pierre’s family is alive. Worry gnawed at the former Vineyard resident for five days last week while he waited for news of the fate of his family in Port-au-Prince.

On Sunday, the Haitian native and his wife, Nahomie, learned that his father and extended family had survived the earthquake but had lost everything they owned. “I’d ask people to be aware of the urgency of situation,” Mr. Pierre said early this week. “It’s far worse than we’ve seen on CNN. The need is urgent.” After the earthquake, the 30-year-old Barnstable High School French teacher (and former wait staffer at Zephrus) began working with several aid organizations to get help to his people. “Now that I know my family is alive and the extent of their need, I’m also going to be raising funds, clothing, shoes, anything, to bring to my family next month,” he said.

Mr. Pierre said he is reaching out to Haitian family and friends in the U.S. He has had assistance from several Island sources, including former employer Susie Goldstein at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven and from Lynn Ditchfield, director of the Island adult education program ACE MV, for whom Mr. Pierre taught French last spring.

“They literally have nothing,” Mr. Pierre said. “Their homes must be rebuilt. It’s going to be tough. But we are a resilient people, I believe primarily because of what we’ve been through. We’ve learned to survive with little or nothing during one disaster after another – invasions, embargoes, coups d’etat and overthrown government.

“We must have hope. Life must go on. As human beings, we have to be aware of world problems. Haiti is just one.”

Certainly, Margaret Penicaud and Jeanne Staples never thought their offer to help some Haitians toward self-sufficiency would take on a life-and-death urgency following the deadly earthquake on January 19 shortly before 5 pm.

But this week a story of hope and healing is emerging from their efforts, born on our Island, from the chaos in Haiti.

Fish farming and quilting projects established less than three years ago by these Vineyarders have brought immediate relief to residents of the hemisphere’s poorest country, even as massive amounts of aid and uncounted aid workers sit in airports and on ships, gridlocked in the attempt to organize the in-country relief effort.

Modest efforts at inception, the Fish Farm for Haiti Project and offshoot Haiti PeaceQuilts have provided unimagined benefit, providing safe shelter, food, and potable water to uncounted residents of Lilavois, the projects’ home base, eight miles outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s devastated capital, and to two project locations in the city.

The Lilavois headquarters is set in a compound built by the projects, with six dozen chickens, pools of fish being farmed, and drinkable water, thanks to the setup of a very basic water treatment system by the Vineyarders.

“They have clear plastic bottles and water. We sent some black plastic tarps. You set the water jugs on the tarps under bright sun for seven hours and the microbes are destroyed,” Ms. Staples said of a simple lifesaving system.

The Vineyard’s self-help effort has had another unexpected resource: the creation of a cadre of 50 leaders and workers who have used their life skill training and focus to react quickly in order to provide critical food, water, and safety to their countrymen. The immediate action by a bonded unit, mostly women, in the community has paid lifesaving dividends, both Ms. Penicaud and Ms. Staples believe.

“Urgency is so important. Time is critical in this situation and sometimes smaller organizations can get things done more quickly,” Ms. Penicaud, founder of the Haiti Fish Farm project said in Vineyard Haven this week.

“It’s difficult to get consistent communications to know what is going on,” Ms. Staples said. “The woman who manages the cooperatives has been a godsend. She is traveling between Port-au-Prince and Lilavois, bringing information and resources to the neighborhoods near our cooperatives. Gas was $12 a gallon, now it’s $20.”

“Prices are skyrocketing, but you can buy things,” Ms. Penicaud said, adding, “we bought a satellite phone so we can be sure of consistent communications.” The need for reliable information has transformed the fish project’s website, fishfarmhaiti.org, into a news organization of sorts, vetting and then disseminating information about the Haitian situation to a growing audience on and off the Island, Ms. Penicaud said.

The website reported this week on the status of project people and buildings, including the dead and missing as well as information for volunteers.

Betsy Marshall, a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, learned on the website of the death of Richard Charles, a Haitian driver for the projects. “A wonderful, happy man,” she said.

Mr. Charles lost his life trying unsuccessfully to save his two young daughters as their home collapsed during the earthquake. Ms. Marshall has volunteered in Haiti with the Island groups for the past two years. “I’d go back in a heartbeat,” she said.

Island response has been staggering this week. Ms. Staples said visitors to Peacequilts.org have doubled or tripled since the earthquake. “There are literally hundreds of Island people involved in Haiti projects now. The number may be closer to a 1,000,” she said.

The Vineyard Playhouse last weekend donated the entire receipt from a performance of “Twelfth Night” to Haiti relief, prompting audience members to return to the door and increase their donation.

An all-Island faith service is planned for the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown next week, date and time to be announced.

Your Help Needed

This is a list of  the names and email addresses of  national and international organizations working in Haiti to help resident victims of last week’s earthquake. All of them will welcome your donations.

Doctors Without Borders – www.doctorswithoutborders.org

Oxfam America – www.oxfamamerica.org

Partners in Health – www.standwithhaiti.org

Red Cross – www.redcross.org

UNICEF – www.unicefusa.org

For more information, visit fishfarmhaiti.org or haitipeacequilts.org.

Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.