Haitian Americans dig deep to give aid

Marketplace Staff Feb 16, 2010

Haitian Americans dig deep to give aid

Marketplace Staff Feb 16, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: The most recent estimate for the cost of rebuilding Haiti is coming in at the high end of earlier guesses. The Inter-American Development Bank said today it could be as much as $14 billion. Considering the state of the Haitian economy pre-quake, and obviously most of that money’s coming from overseas, from foreign countries, corporations, and individual contributions.

A lot of Haitian expatriates in the United States are giving all they can and then some, as Sally Herships reports.

SALLY HERSHIPS: Michelle Guerrier lives with her husband, son, and her mother in Brooklyn. They have a three-story, white house and a white cat named Mimi. Guerrier had been setting aside a little money from each paycheck.

MICHELLE GUERRIER: It was supposed to be a little extra savings, but you know, it’s not going to be that.

Guerrier is Haitian-American and like many from her Brooklyn community she’s sending money back to Haiti, and feeling a pinch.

GUERRIER: Haiti was always dependent on money from the diaspora, and now even more so. And you know, we barely have enough to make it here.

RICO DUPREY: This could not have happened at a worse time for Haitians.

That’s Rico Duprey. He’s director of Radio Soliel which broadcasts from Brooklyn. Duprey says while unemployment in the U.S. is high, it’s even higher in the black community — almost 16 percent. And he says, for Haitian Americans, it’s higher still.

DUPREY: It is a struggle because of the predicament they find themselves in, an unusual number of them have lost their jobs. Those that have jobs, their jobs have become more and more precarious.

Even so Duprey says Haitians in the states are doubling, tripling, even quadrupling the amounts they send home.

DUPREY: Normally you send money to loved ones, to immediate family. But now, they find themselves being solicited by people they’re not related to. But they’re desperate, anybody they know, they contact the person, hoping they will do something.

For Haitians living in the U.S. who have a lot of connections back home that can mean big financial pressure.

GASPARD LYNCH: Let me call you back, let me call you back, please, I’ll call you back, I’m on the mic.

A few blocks away I stop by Radyo Pa Nou — a Haitian pirate radio station. One of the hosts, Gaspard Lynch, has just come off the air. His cell phone is ringing off the hook with calls from around the U.S. and Haiti. Six of his family members died in the quake but others, like his son, made it through. Now his remaining family is sleeping on a soccer field Lynch owns. And Lynch has a pocket full of receipts for money transfers to them.

LYNCH: This is from MoneyGram, this is from Western Union, you see…

Lynch started sending money back to Haiti when he first came to the states in 1979. He built houses for him and his family. He also built a restaurant, and even a home for street kids. Up until last month he says it housed 1,300 children. But everything was leveled by the earthquake. Lynch pulls a stack of photos out of his briefcase.

LYNCH: This is my house in Haiti. You know how I build this?

Lynch says when he started building he was a truck driver. He didn’t have enough cash to pay for a whole house. So it took him years. Buying $100 worth of sand and cement at a time and setting them aside til he was ready.

HERSHIPS: So how much money is it going to cost to rebuild all your houses?

LYNCH: Almost $1.5 million.

HERSHIPS: American dollars?

LYNCH: American dollars. Yeah. I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild.

But even though he has to start from scratch, Lynch says he’s hopeful. All the money it took to build his life in Haiti he earned here, in this country. And he says he knows other Haitian-Americans will join him in starting to build again.

Back at Radio Soliel a new song comes on the air. It’s in Creole so I ask station director Rico Duprey what the lyrics say.

DUPREY: It’s a song that tried to describe the predicament we find ourselves, as a country, as a people. He’s saying that don’t despair, we’ll survive this, we have to.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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