Reaching Out to the People of Haiti
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer. And I'm Mario Ritter.
The January twelfth earthquake in Haiti killed or injured hundreds of thousands of people. The quake also left hundreds of thousands homeless as it destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. This week on our program, we look at some of the efforts to assist Haiti and its people.
As international medical assistance has flowed into Haiti, some of the injured have been flown out for treatment.
Romel Joseph is a blind, fifty year old violinist with Haitian and American citizenship. He could have had a promising career in the United States. Instead, he returned to Haiti and opened a school in nineteen ninety-one.
At the New Victorian School he has been teaching music to students from poor families. But the building collapsed in the quake. Romel Joseph suffered injuries to an arm and both legs. His pregnant wife died two floors below him. In the eighteen hours until his rescue, he says, he kept his mind on prayer and playing music in his head.
He and other survivors were flown to Florida for emergency treatment at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital. There he received a visit from a group of classically trained middle-school students.
ANTOINE JOSEPH: "Having three surgeries last night -- one in my hand and one on each foot -- it's nice to be here. And it's nice to hear live music. Besides, I played a lot of this music, probably the kind when I was under the ground, when I was under there, and so this kind of makes me feel like I'm alive."
The New Victorian School had burned to the ground because of an electrical problem on January twelfth, two thousand. That was exactly ten years to the day of the earthquake that destroyed it again. Romel Joseph rebuilt his school then, and says he plans to do it again.
The University of Miami was just one of the international groups that sent a team of doctors to Haiti. Medical teams from the United States Department of Health and Human Services have treated thousands of victims. Other patients have been cared for on the United States Navy hospital ship Comfort and other Navy ships sent to Haiti.
But some groups like Doctors Without Borders said patients in field hospitals were dying because of a lack of basic medical supplies like antibiotics. In Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the problem was not getting enough supplies to Haiti. It was getting them delivered to wherever they were needed.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: "It's the ability to get them on a timely basis into Haiti. So they came on ships. They've come on as many planes as possible. But there was so much needed simultaneously."
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Before the disaster, it suffered from high death rates among babies and high rates of H.I.V./AIDS, hepatitis and other communicable diseases.
Kathleen Sebelius says the United States had medical teams in Haiti well before the earthquake and will have them there well after.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: "With more stable infrastructure, once it's rebuilt, with a more robust health system, there's an opportunity to not only deal with the immediate tragedy of the earthquake, but hopefully, some of the longer-term crises that Haitians have experienced day in and day out."
On January twenty-second, a televised concert was held to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti. It was called "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit For Earthquake Relief." It included performances from Los Angeles, New York and London and live updates from Haiti. Major networks broadcast the concert in the United States and Canada. And viewers around the world saw it on cable and satellite channels and the Internet.
One of the performers was Alicia Keys.
Actor George Clooney led the event.
GEORGE CLOONEY: "This is an opportunity to help a neighbor in need, in desperate need, and to do it with swiftness, expertise, generosity and love."
Hollywood stars told stories of survivors and rescue workers in Haiti. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio talked about the medical charity Partners in Health, one of the groups supported by the telethon. He said the doctors, like many relief workers in Haiti, faced a shortage of supplies and had to be creative with the equipment they had.
Celebrities answered phones as viewers watching the telethon called to make donations.
REESE WITHERSPOON: "Great, well this is Reese Witherspoon. And we really appreciate your call ... "
The Hollywood volunteers included director Steven Spielberg, actor Mel Gibson and actresses Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon.
Musical performers also included Madonna, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono and the Edge. Sheryl Crow performed with Kid Rock and Keith Urban. And Bruce Springsteen sang "We Shall Overcome."
Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean spoke of carrying bodies to a cemetery when he returned to Haiti after the quake. He closed the concert with a call to rebuild Haiti. He also sang about the country.
WYCLEF JEAN: "Earthquake, we see the earth shake, but the soul of the Haitian people, it will never break."
Organizers said the two-hour broadcast raised more than fifty-seven million dollars in the first day through telephone, online and text. They were still adding up amounts like donations from companies and online music sales on iTunes.
Some of the money raised in the telethon will go to Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation. Other charities that will receive money are Oxfam America, the Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations World Food Program and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
After the earthquake, President Obama asked former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to raise money for Haiti. The money is for immediate relief and long-term recovery efforts.
An estimated one hundred thousand Haitian-Americans live in New York City. Many live in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, including Ruth Lucie. She said that she lost seventeen family members in the quake.
Groups across New York City have been collecting donations for quake victims. At the Bedford Haitian Community Center, American-born Shamir Henri got his own bad news.
SHAMIR HENRI: "I just found out my aunt and her family over there, her kids and her husband, they're homeless. Their house crashed. As for everyone else, I really don't know what's going on. It's crazy, so it's not good. So far we've been collecting food, water, medical supplies, clothing."
Alex Pierre gave money to the relief effort, but says that does not feel like enough.
ALEX PIERRE: "You are feeling hopeless. If I was in Haiti when that happened, when the earthquake happened, I could go and help somebody that's injured. Somebody that passed away, you take them to the cemetery or do something. And here I sit in my living room, there's nothing that I can do. And that's killing me inside. I feel like a zombie because there's nothing that I can do to my people that's struggling."
Andree La Fleur works at an office operated by Haitian-Americans. They help people with translation services, tutoring, immigration paperwork and other work. She says the earthquake has been personal for her as well. Her six-year-old nephew was killed in the quake.
ANDREE LEFLEUR: "And some of them, they died in the street and the parents don't know where they are. And one day you want to go to the cemetery or something, you can't do it because you don't know where they are. It's very sad, it's very sad. And I don't have words to describe this thing. Nobody in Haiti can forget this day."
Haitians who were in the United States when the earthquake struck will be able to receive temporary protected status, or T.P.S., even if they are in the country illegally. An immigration official in New York, Andrea Quarantillo, explained.
ANDREA QUARANTILLO: "Haitian nationals will be able to remain in the United States legally, be able to obtain authorization to work legally in the United States, be eligible to obtain permission to travel outside the United States, and return to their T.P.S. status."
That means they can travel home to help without fear of being denied re-entry to the United States. Berganette LaPorte was among Haitian immigrants who attended a meeting at the Federal Building in Manhattan where officials explained the program.
BERGANETTE LAPORTE: "It's definitely a relief to us who lives in here because of what's happening, when everything is over we will be able to go back to Haiti without worry, with knowing OK, without nothing bad happening, we'll feel like we're safe over there and then come again back to America safely."
Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter. And I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer.