The austere conference room of the Boston Foundation's 10th-floor office in the Back Bay isn't typically a venue for outpourings of grief, anger and hope.
But that's exactly what happened there today as Boston's civic leaders and Haitian community advocates reflected on two weeks of suffering in Haiti, and debated how to help Haitians start rebuilding their shattered country.
Boston Foundation President Paul S. Grogan announced to applause that Massachusetts donors had contributed $294,000 to the group's Haiti relief and reconstruction fund, and that thanks to matching funds from the Ansara Family Fund the amount available for projects was double that amount. At the close of the two-hour forum, Grogan reported that another $50,000 had come in. That makes nearly $700,000 available for Haitian needs.
Karen Keating Ansara, whose husband, former construction company owner Jim Ansara, has been in Haiti assisting relief efforts since three days after the Jan. 12 quake, said the aim is "to support the people of Haiti in reconstructing their own country, in their own way, long after the world has grown weary of this disaster."
She said it would take "smart mercy" to let real healing happen in Haiti -- and cited as examples the work of several Boston-linked relief and development organizations, including Partners in Health, Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, and the Association of Haitian American Women in Boston.
In the photo: Left to right, Linda Mason, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, John Ambler of Oxfam America, Carline Desire, and Rep. Marie St. Fleur
Dr. Joia Mukherjee, the medical director for Partners in Health, briefed the packed room on her 10 days in Haiti treating quake victims.
Her voice breaking at times, Mukherjee said she treated 800 patients on her first day in Haiti, 80 percent of whom had suffered orthopedic trauma. She said she then focused on organizing teams of orthopedic and trauma surgeons to treat crush injuries.
Mukherjee said one of the most powerful moments was making her way to the Neg Mawon statue of a runaway slave near the collapsed National Palace, and finding that "he stands defiant and unafraid; he blows a conch to call others to freedom."
As she stood there crying, a Haitian woman, also in tears, tapped her on the shoulder. "She told me the free man will never be broken, the runaway slave, the marooned man, will always stand in the face of such catastrophe," Mukherjee said.Mukherjee said she was counting on the resilience and competence of the Haitian people -- "Haiti is not a poor country, it is an impoverished country."
Marie St. Fleur, the Haitian-born state representative, said the initial response from the world had been enormously generous, but in a tone tinged at times with anger, she added, "there has not been enough engagement with our community. That is a mistake."
She also said many children in the Haitian community in Boston are traumatized, and "many of them don't understand why their parents will not be coming back."
Grogan said several of the nine organizations that will receive initial grants from the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Fund work in Boston, including the Haitian Multi-Service Center, the Black Ministerial Alliance and Catholic Charities of Boston. Others are on the ground in Haiti, among them Partners in Health, St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, Fonkoze, and St. Damien Hospital of Haiti.
Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women in Boston, said her group had already registered two new domestic-violence cases since the quake hit, and one woman who came in had lost 10 relatives. Community-based organizations in Boston, Desire said, would need resources to deal with post-traumatic stress and increased pressure on housing as homeless refugees make their way here.
Linda Mason, the national chair of the Mercy Corps disaster relief group, said an immediate need is to get cash into Haitian businesses to let them get back to work. She said Boston companies should look for ways to work with small businesses there.
Jeffrey Swartz, the Timberland chief executive, had just returned from days of relief work with Jim Ansara in Port-au-Prince. "The smell of despair, you can let it clog your nose," Swartz said, or you can dig in and help.
At the Haitian capital's main hospital, he said, one of the volunteer doctors had scrawled on the wall, "300 Longwood Avenue" -- the address of Children's Hospital in Boston.
"I was really proud to be from Boston," Swartz said.
Swartz said he met one surgeon who had used farm tools to perform operations for two days until supplies arrived.
"I saw the human response that says there is God in this place," Swartz said.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
Is your organization holding an event? Post it on our calendar (use "worldlyboston" for the keyword).