By RON FANFAIR
The Haitian community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is rallying to provide support to the Caribbean country rocked by a massive earthquake last Tuesday afternoon that caused mayhem and widespread destruction.
Honorary Consul General Dr. Eric Pierre and several prominent leaders, including community worker Antoine Derose, were engaged in an emergency meeting last night to devise a strategic action plan in the aftermath of the catastrophic tragedy that may have left thousands dead.
Derose, who is a bilingual program consultant with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is also putting together a team of health workers to help Haitians in the GTA deal with stress and anxiety.
Many Haitian nationals here, including Derose, have been unable to contact family members in Haiti. There may be close to 16,000 Haitian nationals residing in the GTA.
“My brother in New York was able to contact our sister who lives in Carrefour and she’s unhurt,” Derose said. “However, I have not been able to touch base with my brother who is in Delmas and I am concerned.”
Derose said the two-storey concrete home his sister lived in with her son in Carrefour was destroyed.
“It collapsed and they spent the night on the street,” said Derose, who is a founding member of the Haitian Association of Toronto and the Haitian Cultural Network of Toronto. “They have nowhere to go right now.”
Derose also helped establish the Haitian Toronto Committee following four tropical storms that ravaged parts of the island in 2008.
“This organization has been dormant, but we might have to revive it now that we have a crisis on our hands,” he said. “I just don’t know, but it looks like Haiti is becoming a bottomless pit. Every time you think you reach the bottom, you keep going deeper. There is no limit to the suffering in that country.”
Canada, meanwhile, has pledged $5 million for urgent humanitarian assistance to Haitians reeling from the devastation. The funds will help provide emergency shelter, medical services, food, relief items, water, sanitation services and protection.
“Our government is deeply concerned about the impact of the earthquake and we want to ensure that the immediate basic needs of the Haitian people are met quickly,” said Minister of International Cooperation, Beverley Oda. “In the face of so much devastation, we will continue to work closely with local authorities, international organizations and UN agencies to help bring relief to those affected and provide support as people rebuild their lives and communities.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke with Haiti’s Charge d’Affaires in Ottawa, Nathalie Gissel-Menos, assuring her that Canada will deploy all necessary assistance.
“Our nation is home to a large community of Canadians of Haitian descent,” he said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them as they seek word about the safety of their loved ones. While officials are currently assessing the damage and the possibility of Canadians injured, Canada stands ready to provide any necessary assistance to the people of Haiti during this time of need.”
Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who migrated from Haiti with her family at a young age, is following the tragedy with great attention and concern.
“Fate once again turned against the people of Haiti, who had only just begun to see a glimmer of hope,” said Jean. “Like me, Haitian communities across Canada are heartbroken and overwhelmed by the magnitude of this catastrophe. The images and news reports are unbearable to watch. So much distress, suffering and loss. We are also, of course, imagining the worst, situations no image can capture that only increase our feeling of helplessness.
“Now, more than ever, it is time for us to show our solidarity with the most vulnerable people in the Americas, our brothers and sisters in Haiti, whose courage is once again being so harshly tested.”
Jean has made two officials visits to Haiti, the last being in January 2009 when she met with President Rene Preval and then Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis who was ousted by the Senate last October.
Toronto Mayor David Miller also extended condolences and sympathies to Toronto’s Haitian community.
‘Toronto is proudly home to thousands of Haitian-Canadians and this is one of the many communities that make up Toronto’s culturally rich mosaic, so when tragedies like this occur, it resonates across our city,” said Miller
Donations to relief efforts can be channeled through the Red Cross online at www.redcross.ca or by calling toll free 1-800-418-1111 or at any Red Cross Office.
B’nai Brith Canada, meanwhile, has announced the creation of an emergency disaster fund to assist earthquake victims.
“We were all saddened to hear the news of the catastrophic earthquake that has devastated Haiti,” said Joe Bogoroch, national president of the Jewish human rights organization. “In response to the quake, we immediately set up an emergency disaster fund through which the community will have an avenue to donate funds that will go towards directly assisting the victims of the tragedy.
“We call on members of the community to once again show their generosity and donate as much as they can afford to the victims of the quake. We hope that our grassroots effort will provide some measure of comfort, dignity and normalcy to the victims whose lives have been torn apart. “
Funds can be donated by calling 1-800-274-2310.