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Among the tens of thousands of Haitians in Brooklyn, the earthquake remains the top story, every day.
This package is part of a joint project between GlobalPost and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. It was reported and produced by students at Columbia.
NEW YORK — Four months after the earthquake that pounded Haiti into rubble, the story has fallen off of newspaper front pages, replaced by this month’s hot news: an enormous oil spill, a Times Square bombing averted, the Dow’s mysterious gyrations.
But the earthquake aftermath remains the top story of the day, the month and likely the year at the Haitian station Radio Soleil in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. Indeed, among the tens of thousands of Haitians in Brooklyn, the earthquake is on everyone’s mind, every day.
Yellow banners with the words “Let’s Rebuild Haiti” stream from lampposts in Flatbush, the epicenter of New York’s Haitian diaspora. It's a mandate that scores of these citizens — mothers, fathers, and siblings of earthquake victims — have taken to heart in Haiti’s hour of enduring need.
“We had prayer meetings for them constantly,” said the Rev. Verel Montauban of the First Haitian Church of the Brethren in Flatbush, “for encouragement for those who lost loved ones.” Since the earthquake, Montauban has been delivering aid to a sister congregation in Haiti that lost its sanctuary and its schoolhouse in the earthquake.
“Right now they are worshipping under a mango tree,” he said. “We need strong leaders to rebuild Haiti.”
Even the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office found an innovative way to help this month — by persuading Nike and other companies to allow counterfeit goods bearing their logos to be shipped to Haiti. Normally when the DA’s office seizes fake designer clothes and shoes from smugglers, the law says they must be destroyed.
Some Haitian New Yorkers are drawing on their personal talents to help with rebuilding. A Brooklyn rapper penned a post-earthquake song to perform at the city’s frequent Haitian relief benefits. And a Brooklyn team of Haitian-Americans called NYC Haiti has been donating proceeds from its ticket sales to the earthquake-ravaged Haitian Soccer Federation.
“I want it to go beyond [the game],” said Ron Delice, NYC Haiti president. “I want it to focus on the kids who don’t have food in Haiti, the kids who don’t have soccer balls to play with.”
For others, helping out means taking in relatives who fled the earthquake aftermath, providing food, shelter and help.
“She’ll tell you one thing, and then she’ll go sit with a psychiatrist or a psychologist and lie, and say ‘I’m OK,’” said Patricia Marthone of her aunt, Lunie Castor, who moved in with Marthone in Flatbush. Castor resists talking with professionals, but her niece hopes she may open up about her post-earthquake fears in one of Flatbush’s many churches. “Haitians are very big about speaking about things in church,” said Marthone.
In Haiti itself, more than 1 million Haitians still reside in crowded tent camps made even more dreadful by an impending flood season. Meanwhile, the U.S. military operation in Haiti has dwindled from a high of 22,000 troops immediately after the quake to just 1,300 today. And the international community still squabbles about a master plan for the country’s recovery.
But on the ground, in the tent cities, there are signs of hope, said former U.N. spokeswoman and Haitian citizen Michele Montas.
“Amazingly resilient people are emerging amidst the collapsed buildings,” said Montas on a recent visit to New York. “Market women selling fruit and vegetables on the street; wrecked cars used as shoe racks by street sellers to advertize their wares; children in clean uniforms going back to the few schools that have been opened under tents.”
But Montas and the people of Flatbush know that much remains to be done.
“Please, do not allow the world to forget Haiti,” she said.
Additional reporting by Chris Alessi, Kethevane Gorjestani, Yasmine Guerda, Kiran Moodley, Sherisse Pham, Leonard Schoenberger, Ian Thomson, Saskya Vandoorne and Rania Zabaneh.