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BU’s Haitian Community Grieves

With little tangible news, relatives wait — and pray

| From BU Today | By Susan Seligson

On January 13, Michele David’s brother e-mailed her this photograph of the ruins of their family church, Eglise et Ecole Sacre Coeur, the Church and School of the Sacred Heart, in Port-au-Prince. Photo courtesy of Michele David

In the hours after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake flattened much of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12, Michele David, a School of Medicine associate professor, had been leaving e-mails and phone messages for her brother and sister, both of whom commute daily into the city center from the wealthy suburb of Pétionville.

Michele David

“The quake hit at 5 p.m., so I was hoping he was already home,” David (left) says of her brother, who works for a nongovernmental organization that helps entrepreneurs. “I hadn’t heard from my sister either. I heard from four cousins on Facebook; they’re saying one of my cousins is trapped in his house and can’t get out.”

But on the following day, David’s brother was able to send her a brief e-mail. He had made it home, and his wife and children were okay. Their sister is still missing.

David, an internist and community outreach provider at Boston Medical Center’s Women’s Health Group, is now in touch with a physicians’ group working with the Haitian Red Cross.

The enormous tremor has paralyzed the small Caribbean nation, and according to its prime minister and American news sources, may have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Centered about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, in an area called Kafou (Four Corners) in Haitian Creole, the quake was felt by 10 million people, with tremors as far away as Cuba.

In Boston’s Haitian community, people are grieving for their nation, praying for their loved ones.

“I have family in Port-au-Prince, right in the middle of it,” says Nicole Prudent, a MED clinical assistant professor and a BMC pediatrician, who last visited Haiti in April 2008. “A Haitian nurse and orderly just came into my office and we prayed together. There’s nothing to do. We don’t know anything. My immediate family is here, but I have a cousin and aunt in Haiti. But really everyone in Haiti is my family. I’m thinking of all of them, especially the children.”

While trying to focus on her first days of classes, Farrah Belizaire (SAR’11), president of the year-old Haitian Cultural Association of BU, is in near-constant touch with her Haitian-born mother, who is desperately trying to contact Belizaire’s aunt and grandmother in Port-au-Prince.

“I know one Haitian student who’s heard from her father there, but it’s so difficult,” says Belizaire, whose organization, started to make the BU community aware of Haitian culture, plans to set up a table at the George Sherman Union on Friday to solicit donations. Professors and fellow students have been offering their prayers, she says. According to Partners in Health, perhaps the most important health provider in Haiti, what’s needed most urgently in and around Port-au-Prince is medical supplies.

Baudenaire Pierre, a custodial area manager at BU, who emigrated from Haiti 28 years ago, also has yet to hear from family there.

"The phone lines are all broken,” he says. “The person I was able to talk to was 200 miles from there.” Pierre, who visited Haiti last October, was able to learn that his cousin, a teacher in Port-au-Prince, is missing. “My brother and brother-in-law live there, but I haven’t heard anything,” he adds.

Catherine Alexis (CAS’11) is spending a year studying in London and was relieved to get an e-mail from a cousin in Haiti saying that Alexis’ mother and father are okay.

“I consider myself fortunate; my family is all right,” says Alexis. “Unfortunately, I did get news that one of my friends there has died. I haven’t been able to look at photos from my home or the neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. It’s too much.”

An active member of BU’s Haitian community, Joanie Decopain (SED’12) had just returned to campus after winter break when she got a text from her sister saying, “You need to find a television. You need to call your mom.”

American-born Decopain has many relatives on the island, including two grandfathers, one of whom lives in Port-au-Prince. But her family in Brockton knows nothing of their fate. “The quake wasn’t very far from them, so I’m worried,” Decopain says. “Especially about my grandfather who lives in the capital. But he’s healthy, and they are strong people.”

A list of aid organizations accepting donations for Haitian earthquake relief is available here.

Nicole Rojas (COM’12) and Katie Koch contributed to this report. Reach Rojas at nrojas@bu.edu and Koch at katieleekoch@gmail.com.

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