Diaspora

'It Could Have Been Me Out There': Local Residents, Groups Mobilize To Help Haiti – wgbh.org

Under a small tent in a shaded corner of Mattapan’s Almont Park, Josephine Jacques placed a box of needles, medications and medical equipment on a table already teeming with diapers, sanitary napkins, clothes, food and other items that Boston-based nonprofits collected Tuesday to send to Haiti.
Jacques, a 54-year-old nurse practitioner who runs her own medical clinic in New Hampshire, moved from Haiti to Massachusetts some 30 years ago. She says she sees her donation as a small contribution to help her family, friends and the millions of others struggling in Haiti after the latest earthquake.
“I feel helpless, and sometimes I feel guilty that I’m that lucky because it could have been me out there,” Jacques said. “But then I feel lucky. I feel blessed. And I feel like maybe, you know, I don’t even really deserve to be here, but I’m here. So I’m grateful to God that my family has been safe.”
A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday morning, leaving at least 1,419 people dead and more than 6,900 injured, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency. Roughly 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, have been impacted by the quake, according to UNICEF, though search and rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of resources and heavy rains caused by tropical storm Grace.
Nadia Clancey, the president of nonprofit Community Coalition for Change, said she was unable to communicate with her relatives in Haiti until two days after the disaster.
“With everything that’s been going on, Haiti just can’t seem to catch a break,” Clancey said, while lugging cartons of water bottles to the table. “And I just felt like I needed to spring into action and try to do what I can for my people, my country.”
The earthquake arrived within weeks of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, which sparked political turmoil. Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to ravage the Caribbean nation, which has the lowest rate of people vaccinated against the virus in the world at less than 0.1%, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“This is a country who has faced multiple situations of devastation over the last year,” said Monica Cannon-Grant, who helped organize the relief effort through her nonprofit Violence in Boston in conjunction with local activist group Freedom Fighters Coalition. “We have a large Haitian community here in the city of Boston and we need to figure out how we can jump in and support them, and when we say Black lives matter, we mean all Black lives, not just the ones in this country.”
Items donated on Tuesday or dropped off at the Violence in Boston headquarters in Hyde Park will be shipped through a Haitian shipping company, according to Cannon-Grant. A GoFundMe fundraising effort, which has already collected nearly $4,000, will be donated to Haitian organizations, including the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, ADFHaiti and Hope for Haiti.
Volunteers filling up a van with essentials Tuesday included some familiar faces vying for local elections, including mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell, at-large City Council candidate David Halbert and Will Dickerson, a City Council candidate for District 4, which covers parts of Dorchester, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain and Mattapan, the last the neighborhood with the largest Haitian American community in the state.
“Sometimes you’re lost for words, you know, because everything feels so close,” Dickerson said. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the Haitian community, so we need to all do what we can to support them.”
On Tuesday, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston called for donations to be processed through the Catholic Relief Services.
“The people of Haiti are suffering,” O’Malley said in a statement. “The earthquake has caused a significant loss of life and many have been injured. Desperation grows by the hour with the disruption in communications as well as basic services such as water, sanitation and medical supplies. Our parishioners have long answered the call when natural disasters have struck in other parts of the world. The Haitian people need us now.”
While local and international groups scramble to provide meaningful support and Haitian emergency efforts continue in the country, Haitian Americans like Jacques in Boston are still looking to find ways to be helpful and send messages of hope back home.
“I let my family know that there is hope,” Jacques said. “Sometimes when it’s darker, that’s when the light shines through. I don’t have the answers, but I just know that things are not going to stay this way, and something will happen. I don’t know when, but it will.”
Tori Bedford (she/her/hers) covers Boston’s neighborhoods, including Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan for the GBH News Dorchester Bureau.

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