Fairfield community comes together to help Haiti
Churches, Individuals and Schools Come Through In Time of Need
From churches to school children to individuals, members of the Fairfield community felt compelled to help after earthquake that devastated Haiti a few weeks ago.
Some have connections to Haiti -- they have family members over there. Some don't know a single person on the humble island country that borders the Domincan Republic, yet they felt they had to do something for the men, women and children over there, many of whom are sleeping in the street because their homes are too unsafe.
A trio of Episcopal churches -- St.Paul's Church, St. Timothy's Church and Trinity Church in Southport -- collaborated on a benefit concert a week-and-a-half ago titled "Songs for Haiti." The event, hosted by Trinity Church, raised almost $20,000, according to Rev. Nicholas Porter. The funds will be used for primary care -- food, water, clothing, shelter and medical attention. However, a future goal of the three churches, known collectively as "Trinity in Motion," is to help rebuild Haiti's Holy Trinity Episcopal School that they had been supporting for a number of years.
The earthquake that struck on Jan. 12 reduced the private school to rubble. Rev. Matt Calkins, the rector at St. Timothy's Church, visited the school on his last visit to Haiti some years back.
"It breaks my heart," he said.
The school was founded in 1927 on the grounds of Holy Trinity Cathedral by the Sisters of Saint Margaret, an Episcopal order of nuns based in Boston. In addition to having provided an excellent education and preparation for secondary school, Holy Trinity School sought to make the children agents of change in a highly troubled nation. In addition to the school, the cathedral was also destroyed. Its walls were covered with murals done in the 1950s, during a period of tremendous artistic renaissance in Haiti, according to Calkins.
"To see so many lives lost, buildings and property destroyed, is heartbreaking, but we hope that the future will be a time of rebuilding and rebirth," Calkins said.
Is there any message that has come out of this terrible tragedy?
"The message is that when we see our neighbors in need, we're called to lend a hand. Our hearts are open when we see our neighbors suffering, especially children," he said. "National disaster will happen and we can't control that, but we can do something afterwards in response. We can reach out and help."
Porter said it's one thing to see the images on the news, but when the e-mails start coming in from friends specifically affected by the tragedy, "the horror of it becomes very real and it motivated us into action."
The school that was destroyed was a place of support for parents in an area where poverty and social chaos is part of daily life. It also provided meals to many children who otherwise would have gone hungry.
Porter estimated that it will cost well over $1 million to rebuild the school. That won't be easy, but the clergy and parishoners of St. Timothy's Church, Trinity Church of Southport and St. Paul's Church are committed to raising all that they can. To get close to the goal, they may have to seek support outside the church community.
Buildings can be rebuilt, but for some, last month's earthquake means permanent loss. Faoteau Dossous, an employee at the Super Stop & Shop on Kings Highway, lost four members from his side of the family. One was a brother. Dossous' wife lost 12 from her side. Dossous, who hasn't been to Haiti since December 2008, will be returning soon.
Fellow Haitiian Woodlynne Belizaire, whose two children attend McKinley School, spearheaded a supplies drive at the school two weeks ago. Belizaire's mother and one of her brothers still live in Haiti, but they are safe. Her mom's home has a large crack in the roof. Like many who have homes in Haiti, Belizaire's mother and brother are not risking sleeping inside the structure, and so they are sleeping in tents. Belizaire calls her mother every day to see how she's doing. She can no longer watch the news regarding what's going on in Haiti. It hurts too much.
"I lost a lot of friends," she said. "Thank God my mother's fine and my brother's fine. One of my best high school friends, she was working in a bank and the bank collapsed. No one survived."
Organizing the supplies drive at McKinley was one way Belizaire could play a small part in helping the people of her native country. The drive was a success. Notices to donate went out to parents on Thursday the week of the earthquake. School was closed the following day for a professional development day and the following Monday was a vacation day for the students (Martin Luther King Jr. Day). But the next day, the first school day after those notices went out, everyone came through in a big way. The drive didn't slip their minds.
Principal Dale Bernardoni said Belizaire was expecting to maybe fill up a church van. She thought wrong. A van wasn't going to be enough. The children combined to collect 90 cartons and 35 garbage bags worth of materials and donations, everything from light clothing for adults, children and infants, to bandages, antibiotic ointments, toothpaste and soap. Belizaire was collecting the items to give them to her church in Milford, which is planning to send some people to Haiti.
"I think it was an amazing response in such a short amount of time," Bernardoni said. "The disaster captured the attention of everyone in the United States. What was interesting is that it was obviously a situation that children understand. The kids really understood why there was such a significant need."
Bernardoni added, "I'm enormously proud of the whole school community. This is such a caring place and perhaps in part because it's such a diverse student population and so they understand global issues."
Louis Elneus, a Sacred Heart University graduate and Haiti native, is the founder and president of the Haiti Lumiere de Demain, which focuses its efforts on supporting the education system in Haiti by providing children with funds to purchase needed books and uniforms. Sometimes parents have to make a choice between buying textbooks and putting food on the table. For those who cannot afford both, that's where Elneus' foundation comes in.
Haiti Lumiere de Demain also trains teachers to effectively instruct their students, and provides children with solar-powered flashlights so they don't have to study under kerosene lamps and inhale the fumes.
Since the earthquake, Elneus has played a supporting role, trying to connect the people on the ground (on La Gonave, an island off of Haiti where he hails from) with resources.
"I'm not really involved in the relief phase. I'm trying to connect people with the medical resources they need, food resources they need, water needs."
Elneus said many people from more urban areas are moving back to rural communities in the wake of the earthquake, but even many rural communities have been destroyed.
"The aftermath affected every single region of the country," Elneus said. He added he hopes schools can get rebuilt as soon as possible so the children can have "some form of normalcy."
"They need to go back to school, back to their old routines, so they don't materialize it too much," he said.
Simone Neri, who lives just beyond Fairfield's borders in Westport, is a volunteer with World Harvest Missions Outreach, an orphanage started by Miriam Frederick, a Florida woman. Neri handles the orphanage's Facebook page. Fortunately for all of the babies and young children, the orphanage is intact. Government officials are bringing children from the hospitals to Frederick.
"She's had a lot of amputees," said Neri, who hopes the country, in the long run, will be better off than it was before the earthquake.
"I believe a lot of great things are going to come out of this, and that the country will finally be in the condition that it should have been in many, many years ago," she said.
The "Songs for Haiti" benefit concert featured, among other highlights, a steel drum performance by Jean-Claude Louisgene, a Haiti native; reggae, rock, music by Mystic Bowie; various choir groups; and Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble with members of the Knights Chamber Orchtestra. The afternoon benefit ended with all of the musicians coming together to perform "Amazing Grace."
The money raised will be directed to Save The Children and Episcopal Relief and Development.