Almost as quickly as devastation swept through Haitian communities in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, urgency spread among organizers and nonprofits in Boston determined to provide relief to the first independent Black nation.
Jim Ansara is the cofounder and director of Build Health International, a Beverly-based nonprofit, that has been building health care infrastructure in Haiti since 2010.
By 10 a.m. on the morning of the earthquake, Ansara said he was already mobilizing relief efforts with his colleagues and their partners at St. Boniface Hospital and Partners in Health.
“Unlike in 2010, I wasn’t shocked,” said Ansara, who lived in Haiti for two years and has seen three major disasters plunder the nation. “We knew what to do.”
The 7.2-magnitude earthquake is the latest tragedy to hit the country, which is still reeling from the assassination of its president last month and has barely recovered from the disastrous earthquake in 2010. The nation now braces for a tropical depression, expected to bring extreme weather and mudslides.
The nonprofit is working to set up emergency orthopedic and trauma centers to meet overwhelming demands. They’re providing medical equipment, medications, and sent three doctors who arrived Monday morning. Because of the country’s crumbling road infrastructure and heavy gang presence, Build Health International has helicopters transporting patients to and from care facilities.
They’re also collecting medical donations, construction materials, and financial donations.
Monica Cannon-Grant, activist, community organizer and founder of Violence in Boston, is also helping facilitate a donation drive for Haitian relief.
Violence in Boston, which aims to create safer, healthier, and empowered Black and brown communities, has partnered with the Freedom Fighters Coalition, the city’s leading Black liberation group, to gather financial donations and basic needs such as toilet paper, clothes, and toothbrushes.
“You can’t eat ‘thoughts and prayers,’” Cannon-Grant said in a phone interview. “What Haiti needs right now is tangible support. Thoughts and prayers are cool, but we have to mobilize.”
The relief drive will take place at noon on Tuesday in Almont Park.
Fabienne Eliacin of Hyde Park is a member of Mattapan-based nonprofit Haitian-Americans United and is the communications director for Boston Mothers Care, which works to bring disaster relief to communities in Haiti.
In Haiti, people are digging by hand to find loved ones under the rubble, houses have collapsed on children, and parents are looking all day for a piece of bread only to come home empty-handed, her family in Haiti tells her.
In Boston, Eliacin prays with friends who are unable to reach their loved ones.
Eliacin said Haitian-Americans United will meet Monday to assess the most effective way to support the nation.
“We have to be very careful and vigilant to make sure the money is actually going to the people,” said Eliacin, who saw relief money stolen in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
Eliacin also said relief efforts are complicated as it’s impossible to grasp the full scope of the disaster.
“On the TV, it’s a 30-second breaking news and that’s it,” she said, adding that she’s certain the death tolls are much higher than the widely reported 1,200.
Jim Ansara also said he has “no doubt” that death tolls are inaccurate.
Ansara fears that recent news of political violence and consecutive tragedies in the nation has led to “donor reluctance and fatigue,” he said. According to Ansara, 50 percent of American households donated to Haitian relief in 2010. This year, he’d be “shocked” if it was anything close to that, he said.
He also said “it’s immoral” that the United States, which not only has more resources but has a history of exploitation in Haiti, is allowing its neighbor to suffer.
“It’s 600 miles from South Beach and yet, you have people living as if they’re in a different era. It’s not right,” said Ansara. “The Haitian people really need and deserve our help.”
Julia Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.