Haiti Hits Home in Queens, NY
Fifth grader shares his stories of Haiti with Kid Reporter.
When the earthquake in Haiti erupted it felt so far away. I didn’t know anyone there and knew very little about it. Then I got an assignment from Scholastic to cover people affected by the earthquake. All of a sudden, instead of strangers on the TV screen, I found myself speaking with people directly affected. It made the tragedy much more personal for me.
I interviewed one young man my age, Rickssen Oponte, who is in the fifth grade, just like me. He has family members in Haiti.
Before I interviewed him I was told his mother was among the missing. That made me a little nervous to ask him questions. Before our interview, however, Rickssen found out his mom is OK.
“I can’t talk to my mom, because I can’t get through,” he told me. “But my sister who lives in Florida spoke with her and found out she is OK.”
I asked him what it was like, before he knew she was safe.
“I was extremely worried that my mom would be hurt,” he said. “My heart was broken and my heart was in pieces that she was there.”
Rickssen lived in Haiti for nine years before moving to New York. He has good memories, he said, of going to school and playing soccer. He was quick to point out, however, that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and that people are going to need help rebuilding.
“I want people to know that the people of Haiti are in extreme pain,” he said. “It’s a disaster.”
I also spoke with Julie Le Pore, Director of Religious Education at Saint Ann’s Church in Nyack, New York, which is home to a large Haitian population. LePore stressed the need for both prayers and money.
“Haitians are not ready for clothing or food drives right now,” she said. “They really need money.”
She stressed the need to act quickly to get things as basic as clean drinking water to the people.
“Drinking polluted water means people get sick and if they don’t get cared for, infection will spread,” she said.
It is important for us to help Haiti, she pointed out, because Haitians are our neighbors.
“And just like we try to help our neighbors on our own block, we should also help our neighboring countries in the same way,” she said.
Le Pore’s parish is collecting money and sending it to Catholic Relief Services and to the Norwich Haitian Mission House in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. Saint Ann’s parish already has an established relationship with the Norwich Mission House, because so many members of the congregation are from Haiti.
I also interviewed Jackie McCann and Nancy Taylor, both of Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse counties in the entire country. They immediately started fund raising efforts when the earthquake struck in Haiti because many of their staff are from there. They are baking cookies and other goods to be sold in the lobby.
You may think that a bake sale can’t raise enough money to make a difference. McCann told me that they make $600 to $1,000 a day on their bake sales. They donate all sales to www.foodforthepoor.org, because that particular charity sends 96 percent of the profits directly to the people of Haiti. Food for the Poor is a well-known charity in the Caribbean.
“We want to make sure every penny goes to Haiti,” Taylor said. Aside from the bake sale, the hospital also has collection containers in the gift shop and cafeteria.
“Every little bit is helpful,” Taylor said.
PHOTO: Fifth grader Rickssen Oponte was relieved to find out his mother, who lives in Haiti, survived the earthquake. (Photo Courtesy Joseph O'Connor)