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BU’s Haitian Community Grieves

With little tangible news, relatives wait — and pray


Yesterday afternoon, 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.

“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 Wednesday, 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 (right), 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.”

In addition to setting up a table at the GSU on Friday, members of the BU Haitian community are hoping to organize a vigil in the days ahead. And in the meantime, many of them are waiting for news, and continuing to pray.

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

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


17 Comments on BU’s Haitian Community Grieves

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 8:47 am


    I’m not sure why these students would bother to pray. Since when has prayer helped solve anything? Maybe if you really cared about the livelihood of these people, you’d do something more useful like donating to the Red Cross. Prayer simply makes you feel like you’ve done something when you really haven’t. The old saying is true: Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 9:30 am

    To the Person who commented above…when you have no way of hearing how your family is doing, when you cannot get any form contact with your family, when even the Haitian government cannot offer you much information, you can find some type of peace and hope within prayer. Do not assume that prayer is the only thing that these students are doing. It’s an insult to them and their families.

  • KC on 01.14.2010 at 9:35 am

    Yes, prayer.

    I’m not at all religious, first poster, but I imagine that the value of prayer is akin to the value of meditation: finding calm in the knowledge that our power is limited, which empowers us to do what we actually can. (And these students are in fact raising money, at the GSU, as the article states clearly.)

    I think it’s disheartening and harmful for any of us to criticize the peaceful coping methods of those experiencing both a family and national tragedy.

  • Abram on 01.14.2010 at 10:03 am

    prayer & work

    I am inclined to agree with the first commenter that prayer can be merely a personal palliative. At its best, however, by alleviating the feeling of helplessness in the face of such devastation, it can be the very thing that allows those same to hands to take up the hard work of rebuilding.

    This scale of catastrophe can be stultifying. We need the full arsenal of human resilience. People of faith have an excellent donation record but I too encourage those who might only pray, or even open their wallet, (or write wall posts), to look for volunteer opportunities in their own communities.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 10:17 am


    So prayer and tangible relief for those in aid are mutually exclusive, are they? Ask the millions of religious people in this country and around the world involved in service to those in need and you’re likely to hear a different story from most of them–one in which prayer further sensitizes them to the suffering of those around them and empowers them to reach out with caring hands.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 10:26 am

    Yea but a little prayer can’t hurt either. God can work wonders. He doesn’t expect you to sit around and do nothing, of course. If you pray to Him and go out and provide humanitarian services that are effiacious and lifesaving, then that is a potent combination.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 10:41 am

    YES Prayer!

    I feel the need to respond to the previous post about prayer. I did donate to the red cross, but even so, I also feel prayer can be very valuable in helping people in Haiti and abroad in finding some measure of peace through this horrible time. When I pray, I pray that someone’s family will be found, I pray that God will give strength to search crews to keep going and to give them the wisdom to work quickly and safely. I pray that even when someone finds out a family member has died, that they will be able to grieve and move forward someday and know that they will see their loved one again in time. It makes me sad for people who don’t believe in prayer or think it won’t do any good. There are people who just physically cannot donate for one measure or another and prayer is the only way they feel they can do something good. Please don’t mock it until you’ve really given prayer an honest try….

    • iin hypnotherapy damayanti on 01.23.2010 at 9:16 pm


      Yes, I agree with you. Prayer plays a very important role in life. "Donating" our prayer to the victims is a must, I think. It’s about humanity. Of course, physical help would be beneficial also. I support you.
      By iin hypnotherapy damayanti

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 10:44 am

    yes, prayer

    Nobody here said that prayer was the ONLY thing one should do. If people find comfort in prayer, and they’re also taking whatever earthly action they can, what’s the harm? Praying together as a community can bring solace to those who are struggling under tremendous burdens right now, and bring people together who may choose to take other actions as well.

    I’ve sent my money to Doctors Without Borders, and I’ve prayed for the living and the dead. I’m reasonably sure that the former will bring medical supplies to those currently in desperate need, and I know for certain that the prayer helped me focus my energies on doing what I can to help.

  • Sonia Alleyne on 01.14.2010 at 11:57 am

    Always have hope

    Everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed or “outnumbered” by the things that are coming against them. You may have heard the saying, “When it rains, it pours.” For example, just about the time the air conditioner needs repair in your house, the transmission goes out in your car. It seems like one thing after another. It may feel as if all the forces of darkness are coming against you, but the scripture promises that with God on your side, you have all the resources you need to have complete victory. You are never outnumbered because the Greater One lives in you!
    The next time you’re feeling anxious, fearful, or worried about anything, remember He’s on your side. If God is for you, who can be against you? He promises to guide and protect you and lead you into victory in every area of your life!
    Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness to the Haitian Community. Thank You for Your peace even in the midst of the storms that they are facing right now. I know that You are with them, and they can stand strong because You will lead them into victory all the days of their lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 2:48 pm


    How did this become about your opinions about anothers spirituality. Focus, Focus!

  • Anonymous on 01.15.2010 at 12:30 am

    For those who wish to pray for and assist those in need:

    BU Catholic Center (211 Bay State Rd) will have it’s chapel open to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament on Friday (1/15/10) from 1-5pm for situation in Haiti.
    A second collection will be taken at the Sunday masses at Marsh (12:30, 6, 10pm) to be donated to Catholic Relief Services which plans to raise $50 million for Haiti.

  • Anonymous on 01.15.2010 at 12:42 am

    What I find sickening is how some people turn to God when times get rough (preaching and acting as if they were faithful all along), but then forget about Him altogether when the situation improves. You know who you are…

  • Anonymous on 01.15.2010 at 9:48 am

    To Focus

    We can’t control the conversations that get started by important topics and events, and I think that’s a good thing.

  • Lilia on 01.15.2010 at 10:26 am

    yes Prayer

    I know whoever wondered why prayer is important for the Haitian Community is not Haitian. Prayer and Faith can get you thru most of the bad things that can happen to you. I have been praying non stop and I believe that it has kept my sanity. Donating money is great, but you also need the faith. Faith that your loved ones will be safe, will come home, that you will be able to hold them in your arms again, that you will be able to stand in the soil of your country once more. If you don’t need the prayer, you don’t have to, but some of us need to, so that we can work together and save our people

  • Anonymous on 01.16.2010 at 12:30 pm


    Yes–pray that your money gets to Haiti or to the poor who really needs it. I don’t think it will–but I will pray everday that God will keep his hands over the people of Haiti and they will find the strength to carry on and rebuilt their country.

  • Dirk on 01.17.2010 at 10:19 am

    It’s really one of the largest tragedies of our time. I have never seen such a human catastrophy before.

    Man still is a little piece of dust against the power of nature.

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