New Orleans at the ready to help Haiti rebuild
Five years after Katrina devastated their city, New Orleanians are putting their knowledge and experience to use in Haiti.
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Indeed, New Orleans shares more than a history of disaster with the troubled island nation. At one point in the early 1800s, half of the city's population was made up of French colonials and their African slaves, who fled to Louisiana from Haiti following a series of slave revolts that started in 1791. From architecture to voodoo, Haiti's French and African heritage has been felt in New Orleans ever since.Skip to next paragraph
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Immigrants from Haiti established the state's first newspaper, introduced opera to New Orleans, and played a part in creating carnival traditions and Creole cuisine.
When the Haiti Emergency Village Project left for the island, their luggage included more than 20 duffel bags packed with medical supplies requested by Charles Rene, a Haitian-born obstetrician-gynecologist who lives in New Orleans. Dr. Rene arrived in Haiti with a medical team a week after the disaster and is running a medical clinic near the city of Jacmel, which was hit hard by the earthquake.
Rene is no newcomer to this Haitian city: He's worked with the Hospital St. Joseph in Jacmel for more than 20 years.
Rene was joined in Jacmel by Yvens Laborde, also a native of Haiti, who is an internal-medicine physician at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans area. In a blog for The Times-Picayune, he has made requests for medical supplies, more doctors, and further aid.
"Conditions remain deplorable and the need for basic supplies is tremendous," wrote Dr. Laborde, who has been treating 150 patients a day. "Practically all the beautiful things that I remember in Haiti are destroyed beyond recognition, as are the streets that I used to walk to school when I was a boy growing up."
Such stories strike a powerful chord in New Orleans. On Jan. 31, 24 local bands played a benefit for Doctors Without Borders. Restaurants have sponsored "nights out for Haiti," with 10 percent of sales donated to charity. Art galleries and museums are holding benefits and silent auctions for Haiti.
On a recent Saturday morning at the Community Book Center in the Fairgrounds neighborhood, 50 middle-school and college students boxed medical supplies, food, and clothing for Hope for Haitian Children.
"This is a great cause, and I'd do anything to help Marie Poux and her orphans," says bookstore owner Vera Warren-Williams, who is also a board member for the charity. "The roof of my store almost blew off during Katrina, and then it was flooded by three feet of water, and it took two years to reopen. So I know about dealing with disaster. We were blessed here by thousands of people who came to help afterwards, so now it's time for New Orleans to do its part for Haiti."
Many in the city, Morial says, feel an obligation to help the Haitian people. "People here have been watching the scenes from Haiti and have a lot of empathy," he says. "And it's our moral and spiritual obligation to help."
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