Haitians in St. Louis watch the news, wait for word from home
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 18, 2010 - Kuumba Nia met Myriame Robinson years ago at a party in St. Louis. Then, on Christmas eve in 1996, the two married in Haiti, the home country of his new wife.
For their honeymoon, they stayed at the Hotel Montana in Petionville. Like so much of Haiti, the hotel's gone now. Just rubble remains.
That's true, too, of their family home, which crumbled with three tenants inside.
Robinson and Nia live in St. Louis. She knows through e-mails and texts with a cousin that her father is alive, that some of her family is alive, but they're on the street.
"They said he's OK," she says. "But I haven't heard from him."
She hasn't heard any word from her two brothers, either.
"She had to stop looking at the TV for maybe a day or so," says Nia.
Now, Robinson's constantly connected to Haiti through the Facebook and Yahoo, trying to find word of her family.
Robinson is the secretary of the French-speaking congregation at Kingshighway Baptist Church in St. Louis. The church and its pastor, Frantz Sanon, are organizing relief efforts through Organization Rome-Haiti.
"We've already deployed 72 nurses and doctors in Haiti with medicine, water, food and everything," says Sanon, CEO of Advance Building Associates in Clayton. Those medical professionals are from St. Louis, New York and Florida, he says.
Also, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, Scottrade has donated $50,000 to Rome-Haiti, which doesn't have a website, and another $50,000 to Meds & Food for Kids, a St. Louis-based non-profit that operates in Haiti.
Already, Sanon says, the people on the ground in Haiti say they need more medicine. Sanon is currently getting together another team of doctors and nurses and is looking for medical professionals to volunteer.
The International Institute estimates that some 100 Haitian families live in St. Louis, though Robinson estimates that number at 900 and Sanon says it's probably closer to 1,500, with many Haitians now living in St. Charles County.
Robinson, who had the opportunity to go to Haiti this weekend, decided to stay in St. Louis instead.
"It's just too painful," she says.
For now, she thinks she can be of the most help here, organizing help for her home country, where she knows it's desperately needed.
In the homes of the Dorilus family and the Denis family, the TV has stayed on the news.
No calls get through to Port-Au-Prince, where both families are from. They hear little, if anything, from the relatives still there, and so they watch TV, watch the rubble, the bodies on the street and wait.
"We watched Anderson Cooper say he's going to go to Haiti," said St. Anne Denis late last week. "And until today, I haven't changed my channel."
Denis, her husband, Jesufaite, and their children came to the country in 1993. She's disabled and doesn't work. He's a taxi driver. They live in the city.
Even with what she's seen on TV, Denis said she knows she's not seeing everything. Her parents live in the country, but her brother and sister live in the capital. So far, Denis hasn't heard anything from anyone.
"I don't talk to my family at all," she said. "And I heard that a lot of them lost their homes, a lot of them died."
"And not only for my family, for all the people," she said. "These people are so strong. They work so hard."
The TV has stayed on in the home of the Dorilus family, too, where Charles Dorilus and his wife, Lungista, live with their children. They've been in this country since 1994. Dorilus, who is also a taxi driver, hasn't worked since Tuesday, and knew he'd have to go back by Saturday if he wanted to continue supporting his family.
Until then, "I just stayed home, just watched TV, you know."
Dorilus has two brothers and a sister in Port-Au-Prince. His parents and another brother live in the country.
He hasn't heard from any of them.
Dorilus returned from his last vacation to Haiti in August. During the visit, he spent time with the mom and dad, his brothers and sister, feeling happy to see their faces after several years.
His daughter, Daniela, 18, is a pre-med student at Webster University. The family's trying to stay positive, she says. Her father sent the addresses of his family in Port-Au-Prince with a friend of a friend leaving for the country today.
He hopes for news soon.
For now, Daniela says, there's nothing else they can do.