Carine Dorlus, 30, awoke to a succession of calls from friends Saturday after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated areas in the south of Haiti, where both her parents are from and her dad currently lives.
“Oh no, another earthquake in Haiti? Are you serious?” she thought. “The pandemic is hitting, our president just got assassinated a month ago, and now this.”
So far, the quake has been blamed for killing more than 2,100.
Dorlus, 30, who lives in the Logan section of Philadelphia, said she was thankful her family lived to the west of the heavily damaged areas, but still felt deeply saddened for Haiti, especially since the country hasn’t recovered from the 2010 earthquake, which the government said killed 316,000.
Dorlus completed an undergrad internship in Haiti in 2017 for her degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at Pennsylvania State University. She decided to go to Haiti because although she was born and raised in Philadelphia, she considers that country her homeland.
She lived there for six months helping children and seniors with special needs, mentoring at-risk teens, and working in impoverished areas. This experience would later evolve into Philadelphia for Haiti, a nonprofit for global outreach focused on improving the quality of life of the Haitian people, with a special focus on empowering children founded in 2018.
Two of the partner organizations she works with, an orphanage and a home for seniors, were in the area hit by Tropical Storm Grace.
Dorlus has been in contact with partners in other parts of Haiti to find out what roads are open to transport goods or volunteers into the affected area, but almost all roads are closed because of Grace’s damage. Nevertheless, next month, Dorlus, Philadelphia for Haiti board members, and volunteers will fly to Haiti to provide help themselves.
“Haitian people need to see more of their own Haitian Americans coming back to their country to fix the nation and help them,” Dorlus said. “They can talk to them, they can understand them and serve them better than anybody else.”
In the meantime, Philadelphia for Haiti has a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $40,000 to help with transportation costs, lodging, meal expenses, and emergency expenses for the trip. Dorlus said the organization’s members think the best way to give supplies to the people in Haiti is to deliver them themselves in suitcases because sending barrels with emergency necessities will take longer to arrive in this crisis.
For Jean Guillaume, 51, founder and coordinator of the Philadelphia Haitian Chamber of Commerce, this earthquake also hit close to home.
He was born in Jérémie, the community in Haiti most affected by the earthquake. Although he came to Philadelphia 22 years ago and his family members now live in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and in the western part of the country, he still had close friends affected by the tragedy.
“The earthquake had a higher magnitude than the one in 2010 [a 7.0] and it destroyed more houses. The only thing different is the loss of fewer lives,” Guillaume said. “This might be because more people live in the capital, but also because the houses in this region in the south don’t follow the proper norms of construction that most houses in Port-au-Prince do.”
Chamber members met Saturday evening to discuss the earthquake and plan ways to help, but they struggled to get in touch with people in the affected area because communication was down in most of the country.
They are planning to send a group to Haiti to provide help in rebuilding houses, mental-health counseling, professional support of grieving families, and monetary help for families with school-age children, Guillaume said. They are also raising funds through GoFundMe with a goal of $500,000.
The Haitian Chamber believes that the country now needs help from the Haitian diaspora and not big organizations, which in the 2010 relief effort ”just used 30% of their raised funds on the Haitian people because they spent the rest in costs in transportation, accommodation, translators and their own other services,” Guillaume said. “We don’t want to repeat that.”
In 2010, the American Red Cross raised millions of dollars for aid in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, but ended up with staggeringly little to show for it: Five years later, an NPR and ProPublica investigation found the group only ended up building six permanent homes.
Dafils was born in Haiti and came to the United States when he was 18. He moved to Philadelphia in 2007 and established permanent roots when he founded the group to help recent immigrants, such as funding for basic services, job-finding tools, ESL classes, and immigration consultations.
He met during the weekend with the Haitian chamber and other organizations and communicated with their partner groups in Haiti to strategize about how best to help.
To make physical donations — such as hygiene products, sleeping bags, flashlights — and to get full lists of needs, contact the Philadelphia for Haiti Instagram page @philadelphiaforhaiti and the Haitian Chamber email@example.com. The chamber’s donation drop-off center is at Fritay Lakay Restaurant, at 6334 Rising Sun Ave.
Haitian American United for Change is raising funds through its website to send directly to Haitian relief organizations for emergency needs and to support local businesses. “In 2010 we made a big mistake of sending a bunch of donations to the island that we could not get out of the Haitian customs,” Dafils said.
“We bought all these things that we could find there, like water, flour, cereal, clothes, and that did not help the local economy. We should only bring what we cannot find in Haiti.”
Despite the sequence of crises in Haiti, and knowing that the country still hasn’t recovered from the 2010 earthquake, these Philly organizations remain filled with hope for their homeland.
“I believe it’s gonna take time,” Dorlus said. “It’s not gonna happen overnight. We all have to come together as one and put all of our heads together to see what we all can do to make Haiti great again.”