The shockwaves from the earthquake that ravaged Haiti also swept across the Haitian-American community. It was not unusual to have lost five, 10, even 20 family members in the rubble. Everyone heard story after heart-wrenching story of death, injury, and loss of home and livelihood. Survivors’ pleas for help from their U.S.-based kin multiplied.
A year later, the Haitian-American community continues to suffer from stress and grief.
“We still get 100 calls a day, mostly from people seeking trauma counseling,” said Sounedy Amedee, program coordinator for the CWS Haitian Family Services Program in Palm Beach County, Fla.
“There is so much going on with our clients,” she said. “They repeat, ‘First the earthquake, now the cholera. How much can we bear?’ A child who hears that over and over thinks, ‘God doesn’t love us.’ I really want to help families get some therapy to ease the pain. This is our biggest challenge right now, where to refer people who are traumatized.”
Over the past year, Church World Service has sought to be an oasis of caring and practical assistance for the U.S. Haitian community. CWS offices and affiliates in several states have done so in myriad ways, including reception of medical evacuees from Haiti, immigration legal services for Haitians in the United States, media outreach and referral to community services.
Following the earthquake, CWS was called upon to organize support for 63 medical evacuees and 48 accompaniers. Most were evacuated to hospitals in Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Ga., and Durham, N.C.
These severely injured Haitians needed not only urgent medical care, but also material, logistical and social support, and their accompaniers needed lodging, daily transportation to and from the hospital, clothing, food and other basics.
Most eventually were released from the hospital, and several were placed in Louisville, Ky.; Lancaster, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Houston, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y., where CWS offices and affiliates helped them with food, lodging, cash assistance, transportation to medical appointments, community orientation and social support.
Still in the care of the CWS Miami office are Luckens Cedoit and his wife Edeline Jean. His back and legs were injured when a wall collapsed on him as he tried to protect his pregnant wife from the earthquake. They were evacuated and hospitalized in Miami on January 23; in February, Jean gave birth prematurely to a baby girl.
“Luckens has been in and out of the hospital since then, and had his fourth surgery on November 30,” said Mabel Hernandez, CWS Miami Associate Director. “The injuries were severe enough that he has been confined to a wheelchair since the earthquake. The goal of the doctors is to get him to walk again.
“Luckens and his wife have expressed on countless occasions their gratitude for the assistance and support that they have received from CWS and the Cuban-Haitian Program staff,” Hernandez said. “Luckens has stated that he has been able to endure all these long months of recovery because he has had the support of CWS.”
CWS’s Haitian Family Services Program in Palm Beach County works with refugees, asylees and other Haitian entrants to strengthen family stability and community integration, prevent delinquency, and keep youth in school.
The program’s three staff serve 300 clients and their families. Through media outreach and referrals, they have touched the lives of thousands more.
“CWS is everywhere, giving information out,” CWS’s Amedee said. “We are there for them. We encourage them. They are not all our clients, but they feel they are! People call in to our radio show and say, ‘CWS is number one!’”
All in a day’s work for Amedee and her colleagues: helping other agencies in Palm Beach County translate for their Creole-speaking clients; referring people to medical, legal and social services and pastoral care; taking extra blankets and coats to Luckens Cedoit and Edeline Jean when South Florida temperatures recently dropped into the 30s; visiting medevac Julemene Maurice in the nursing home – even throwing a birthday party for her.
“I can relate so well to the Haitian-American community because I lost 20 family members myself in the earthquake, and I can empathize,” Amedee said.
She added, “When I went to Haiti for some closure about three months after the earthquake, I found Julemene’s family and got them on the phone with her. When I met with the son, he said, ‘It’s a miracle – I thought my mom was deceased from the earthquake.’”
In Miami, New York City, and several other cities with Haitian communities, Church World Service and local affiliates also have offered immigration legal assistance, especially with applications for Temporary Protected Status, which the U.S. government extended to Haiti for the first time following the 2010 earthquake.
Nancy Denis, CWS-Miami’s managing attorney, said her office has provided TPS assistance to approximately 150 clients.
“In addition to the professional and courteous service, what clients appreciated the most were the follow-up services that were provided once the application had been mailed,” she said, noting that some clients of other agencies were denied TPS because they missed the deadline for the filing of additional documentation. “One particular client called to thank us for the diligent service we had provided in filling out a subsequent waiver for her previously filed TPS application.
“Another client called to let us know that he had been granted TPS, saying, ‘Since I got TPS, I am able to work to help my family. People used to help me; now I am helping myself. I’m not afraid to walk in the streets anymore. God bless you for everything you have done for me and Merry Christmas.”
Following the earthquake in Haiti, CWS-New York’s then brand-new immigration legal services program undertook an extensive TPS information and assistance campaign. CWS member communions provided the initial funds for the program’s TPS services, with additional support following from the Fund for New Citizens at the New York Community Trust and the Foundation to Promote Open Society.
“We have appeared on Haitian radio shows and were interviewed for Haitian newspapers like Haiti Liberte,” said CWS Associate Director for Immigration Tara Pinkham. “We have distributed about 30,000 TPS brochures in English, Creole and French, and about 5,000 business cards through outreach, community contacts and other organizations.”
The New York program has served 69 clients to date, 58 of them Haitian, providing assistance with TPS and other applications. Clients have included Naromie and Geraldy Jean-Louis.
Following their wedding in 2006 in Haiti, Naromie, then a U.S. permanent resident, returned to New York City and applied to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for Geraldy to join her.
She was visiting Geraldy in Haiti in January 2010 when, just three days before the earthquake, two men accosted the couple, robbed them and shot Geraldy. He was in the hospital when the earthquake struck. Paralyzed, he was evacuated to a Florida hospital, then transferred to New York upon discharge from the hospital.
In late summer 2010, CWS helped Geraldy apply – successfully – for permanent residence. “Church World Service made it easy for us,” Naromie said. “The lawyer even went to the interview with us. I am grateful for the way they helped us.”
Today Naromie is working as a certified nursing assistant and studying social work and psychology at City College. Geraldy, a mechanical engineer by profession, is still using a wheelchair and getting daily physical therapy. “Even though he doesn’t walk yet,” Naromie said, “hopefully he will.”