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Group in Mattapan welcomes Haiti quake’s school-age victims

Sebastien Francois (left) and Landini Jean Louis recited a poem at the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan. Sebastien Francois (left) and Landini Jean Louis recited a poem at the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Jack Nicas
Globe Correspondent / March 1, 2010

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As hundreds gathered at Boston University yesterday for a five-hour, high-tech charity gala for Haiti, a small group convened in Mattapan to reflect on the tragedy and welcome some of its young victims who have come to Boston.

Landini Jean Louis, 10, left his crumbling home in Port-au-Prince in late January and, after a stop in Miami, arrived in Boston on Feb. 3. He is one of at least 50 Haitian children who in the past month have departed their homeland and enrolled in Boston’s public schools.

“It’s very cold,’’ he said with a smile, wearing a checkered, button-up shirt under a bright yellow sweater. He has settled into the fifth grade quickly at Thomas Kenny Elementary School in Dorchester, using English he learned from summers at the home of relatives in Brockton to gain a wide circle of new friends.

“He’s very popular. The whole class likes him,’’ said classmate Sebastien Francois, 11, a Haitian-American who lost an aunt in the earthquake. “I feel better they’re here ’cause they don’t have to suffer and sleep in the streets anymore.’’

Eric Johnson, director of Newcomers Academy in Dorchester, home to 12 new Haitian students, said most of the children were sent by family to stay with distant relatives or friends and continue their education.

“They’re coming in with blank faces, so we give them a Haitian-speaking buddy,’’ he said. “It’s been really great. The students go out of their way to spend time with them.’’

Jean Louis and Francois have become fast friends. Yesterday, the pair read a poem together during the event at Mildred Avenue Middle School, where speakers addressed the crowd in Creole, then in English.

Up the Riverway at BU, a quasifestival for charity filled a ballroom, study lounge, and dining area on two floors, offering a gamut of Haitian culture: food, music, art, a panel on Haitian issues, and a multimedia museum on the country. A live feed of the main stage was simulcast on the school website.

“We are all in this together,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick in a short speech to students sitting on the floor. “We are one humankind, and if we don’t know how to step up and step forward and look out for each other in times of trial and trauma then we are not acting as full human beings.’’

Patrick said he was impressed by the students’ efforts to organize such an extensive fund-raiser seven weeks after the quake, a symbol that the suffering continues.

“I admire and am inspired by their goodness. There’s a lot that goes into pulling off something like this. It has to come from the heart, and it has here,’’ he told the Globe. “The disaster isn’t over. The work of rebuilding Haiti lies ahead of us all.’’

More than 30 student groups and 120 volunteers worked for weeks on the event, which had raised $9,000 by yesterday morning for Partners in Health. Organizers expected a $25,000 total by last night, which would be matched by an anonymous donor.

BU senior Colleen Huysman, 22, who helped coordinate the army of volunteers, said she jumped at the chance to act on her sympathy.

“It was a no-brainer. After watching the news, it was, ‘What can I do?’ ’’ she said. “Obviously you can’t get up and volunteer in Haiti, so it became ‘What locally can I do?’ ’’

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