Local support for Haitian relief efforts builds on previous connection

By Zia Faqiri, contributor

At 8:29 a.m. on Aug. 14, a devastating earthquake destroyed the already unstable foundations of multiple Haitian communities. In its aftermath, some are drawing on local connections to the island nation formed after another horrific earthquake struck Haiti in 2010.

Garly Michel, the National Director of Organization Wozo Haiti (OWHA) – a non-political Haitian initiative created after the 2010 earthquake to encourage empowerment and problem-solving within individuals and their communities – came to Harrisonburg to study trauma healing after that disaster. Since last month’s earthquake, he has been in contact with Harrisonburg resident Everett Ressler, executive director of Humanitarian Development Partnerships, or HDPI.

The two have been talking to understand what the Haitian people need for long-term improvement, and what the people in the Valley can provide. 

“We were calling to our people on networks [and they] say, ‘What happened to me, God I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t even smell well, I’m feeling that way even after August 14, you know, so tell me what is going on with me, tell me what to do,’” said Michel, recounting a conversation he had with a Haitian in a community that was hit hard by the earthquake.

“The respect that [Everett] shows for people when you are serving it benefits even if it’s five, 10, or 50 dollars,” said Michel. “[He] has his ears open to listen [to] what the communities need.”

Garley Michel says that the obstacles to rebuilding Haitian communities range from lack of water, not just clean water but any water, to gangs blocking the entrances to communities who need the most help. 

“The trauma they are experiencing a month ago and adding to other suffering they had you know from [Hurricane] Matthew,” said Michel. “It is really difficult to measure [improvement], even to see it… the point is security for them, the safety, a safe environment to live, like shelter.”

Ressler says that although this particular tragedy is unfolding more than a thousand miles from Harrisonburg, people should support relief efforts there because those affected are mothers and fathers and children, like anyone else. 

“All of the people in Haiti are traumatized by the terrible things they have to live with, with a political crisis that goes on with the economic crisis, poverty, and all the rest,” he said. “There are many, many needs everywhere, local, international, [and] many emergencies. This is just one, but it’s one that we have a connection with.”

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