Struggling To Help Haiti

The Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia have secured a jumbo jet, but need $100,000 to get it off the ground.

By Gerald Johnson
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Jan. 19, 2010

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Philadelphians are pitching in to help Haiti.

By all accounts—mid-sentence yawns, worried eyes—Florcy Morisset is exhausted. Her beloved Haiti was earthquake-ravaged on Tuesday and several days later, repose still proves elusive. She calls the four hours she squeezed in last night “good sleep.”

After all, it’s double what she got the night before.

But her fatigue stems not from mourning or absorbing the 24-hour coverage of Haiti’s devastation on CNN. There is no time for that. Rather, it’s the result of intense disaster relief efforts she and her organization Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia(HPP) have been tirelessly coordinating around the clock.

On Monday, the Martin Luther King Day of Service, HPP hosted a fundraising event at Morisset’s gallery, Vivant Art Collection—a cozy Old City space adorned with brilliant paintings by contemporary Haitian artists ranging from Exilus Pieseul to Alex Roy. The colorful art captures Haiti’s culture, beauty and pride, a stark contrast from the horrific images being broadcast around the world.

“I think I have made a subconscious decision to not watch the news,” says Morisset, who is Community Development Chair of HPP. “I have to be strong for everyone. I have to be strong to work and be able to say, ‘Listen, we need a plane; we need certain materials; how can we get that there?’ I can’t be weak.”

As news coverage pours into America with a doomsday assessment of Haiti’s future, HPP—made up primarily of upwardly mobile, first generation immigrants—has committed to remaining strong both for the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Haitian Americans living in Philadelphia and for the millions of victims suffering in their homeland.

The organization has a history of pulling together. Lacking the network enjoyed by Americans whose familial ties in the United States go back several generations, HPP members have leaned on one another for support for the past two years. Now, with their island devastated, they must deliver a different kind of help.

Within hours of the news, the group devised an ambitious plan to send a jumbo jet to Haiti in 24 to 48 hours. However, the initial efforts were quickly thwarted.

“We had donations of medical supplies, we had nurses and doctors ready to go, the jet was free, the pilot has donated his time,” recounts Morisset. “We had clearance. They said the only thing they’re charging us for is fuel.” Fuel to Haiti, however, would set them back $140,000. “Getting the money for that has been very difficult,” she says, reporting that $40,000 has been raised so far.

Logistics on the ground in Port-au-Prince also proved an obstacle. Reports of aftershocks, inadequate space on the runway and the overwhelming stench of dead bodies sent HPP back to the drawing board.

While the organization has resolved to continue raising the remaining $100,000, it’s circumventing air travel in the meantime. Thanks to donations, HPP has been sending trucks with medical supplies to Miami. From there, the goods will reach the Dominican Republic by ship and then enter Haiti by land.

So far, HPP’s call for aid has attracted a surge of eager donors, volunteers and NBC 10 cameras. However, Morisset fears that public complacency will set in once the enthusiasm wears off.

"The City of Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Office, everyone is responding right now," she says. "I think it was one thing to get them excited, but the problem with that is that it may have seemed like we put a time limit. We don’t want them to think it’s for now and that’s it. What we want people to really understand is that this is one of many planes, one of many trucks. This is going to be a long-term effort. We’re going to be rebuilding Haiti right.”

HPP's commitment to rebuilding Haiti is reinforced by close, personal connections to many of the millions Haitian citizens currently suffering. Those begging for help and buried in the rubble cannot be easily dismissed as foreign black faces. For these first-generation Haitian immigrants, the victims are family.

Twenty-seven year old Yve-Car Momperousse, Board Chair of HPP, was overjoyed at the news that her relatives survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. But it still pains her that they are now left homeless and sleeping on the street. Her relatives yearn to take refuge in the country’s spared outskirts, but they lack the fuel money to get there.

Agib Pierre-Louis, a 29-year-old engineer and donor to HPP’s relief effort, recalls the torture of not knowing the status of his 92-year-old grandmother in the capitol. For nights on end, he and his mother took turns making desperate long distance calls to no avail.

Days later, a 7 a.m. phone call woke him out of his sleep.

"I will not die until you all come to see me," she said. "But you better hurry."

Beyond blood ties, nationalistic pride also motivates members of HPP, who are as fluent in their country’s history as they are in Creole. “We may be poor and struggle financially, but we were the first black republic," Morisset says. "And we're paying for that still."

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Comments 1 - 3 of 3
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1. Peas & Rice said... on Jan 20, 2010 at 11:33AM

“Haitians helping Haitins...I like it.”

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2. DJ tRIO tRE' said... on Jan 21, 2010 at 05:44PM

“WPEB gave shouts last Sat, 16JAN2010 at 2pm on our Hazel for Haitians awareness show...we are looking to re-broadcast...hit us up 215.472.0881 or 541B S.52nd St (@ Hazel ) at West Philly's only community radio station.

Good luck....come through DJ Rod Bell's thuRsday gig at Blue Martini...he was guest DJ along side Valentino from 45th & Baltimore!


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3. DJ tRIO tRE' said... on Jan 24, 2010 at 12:30AM

“CORRECTION - DJ Rod Bell spins Mondays & Fridays, not thuRsdays at Blue Marini downtown, philly... ooops. ThuRsdays are at!”


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