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Haitians In Boston Will Need Support Of Their Own

This article is more than 10 years old.

At a call center in Boston, a volunteer is helping Josue Phan dial his family. He's too shaky. "I'm trying to call my sisters and brother," Phan says. "They were supposed to come this year. We already paid for the visa and everything." He calls three numbers, and none of them work.

The city of Boston and a local union opened up this call center so Phan and others wouldn't burn their money on expensive phone cards.

Herbert Jean-Baptiste organizes Haitian members for the Boston local of Service Employees International Union. He saw a desperate need for such a place. "It doesn't matter how long, you know, if they have to stay here all night, you know, try to call their loved ones," he says. "We don't care how much it costs."

A young Haitian-American woman uses a call center set up by the city of Boston to try to get information on her grandmother living in Haiti. (Chase Gregory for WBUR)
A young Haitian-American woman uses a call center set up by the city of Boston to try to get information on her grandmother living in Haiti. (Chase Gregory for WBUR)

Marie Perpignant came here from Brockton to call her family. "I just called and I got my sister," she says. "She's fine, thank God. Yeah. Everybody's OK. Just her house is no good anymore, so she has to go someplace else. But they're alive."

Grief counselors are on-call for people who have received the worst news. But there are no answers yet for some of their toughest questions. People want to know how and when they can bring back the bodies of their loved ones.

Nesly Metayer is organizing a coalition of Haitian professionals and pastors to help send a mission to Haiti. But he says no one has money to help local Haitians pay for funerals or bring back the bodies of the dead. "What do we do with our loved ones that pass away?" he asks. "And how do we respect, how do we bury them with dignity?"

This is stressful for Rose Gilles. She's found her husband, but still looking for her siblings. "You cannot make sense of it," she says. "You try to hold onto your faith. One minute I hold on to my faith, one minute I say, God, why? Why us?"

Residents like Gilles will need support for a long time, according to Tiziana Dearing. She heads Catholic Charities in Boston, and expects Haitians here will send "every penny they can" to help family in Haiti.

"We are talking about months and years of sustained need," she says. "Both on the ground in Haiti, and for Haitian families in the United States who will have a whole range of new responsibilities, economic burdens and needs as a result of this."

Dearing says it's great that the city — if not the country — is mobilized to help Haiti. But they shouldn't lose sight of the Haitians who are hurting here.

This program aired on January 15, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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