Friday, February 12, 2010

A Great Need Remains in Haiti

By Maria Alvarez

I write first as a proud Tennessean, and second as a member of the Haitian community. I was born in Haiti and moved to Nashville at the age of 16. I've lived here for more than 15 years – long enough to see the Haitian community in Nashville grow from three families to more than 2,000 people. I remember when the first group of Haitians came to Nashville because of unrest in their homeland. And I'm privileged to have seen that generation of Haitian Americans -- and the next -- become productive Tennesseans.

As a community, we have watched Haiti go through many ups downs. The country was only recently beginning to recover from a decade of economic, environmental and political turmoil. But the recent earthquake changed everything. It was completely unprecedented. All members of the Haitian community in Tennessee suffer alongside Haiti’s survivors.

The quake, which has jolted the world, has not only damaged buildings, but stolen the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians. The days since have been some of the most difficult of my life – not knowing whether my family and friends are alive.

Perhaps the one bright spot in this tragedy is the outpouring of good will by peoples throughout the world. We have all been touched by the efforts of the international community to mobilize on behalf of the Haitian people. We thank Tennesseans specifically for their prayers and donations to support the relief efforts.

However, despite the tremendous outpouring of aid, there remains a great need. Many devastated areas in Haiti have gone unreported, areas such as the southwest region where aftershocks occurred. I recently spoke to a friend who sadly said, “Marie, we have not seen anyone [here to help].”

So please continue to support relief efforts throughout Haiti.

The supplies of food, water, medical and equipment sent to Haiti are great, but more help is needed. Many organizations have long-established development projects on the ground. Those organizations are best placed to assist with Haiti’s immediate needs.

In addition to direct charitable support, the Haitian community in Tennessee calls on the United States to continue its coordinated international relief assistance. We are grateful for the amount of resources already committed to Haiti, and believe that joint planning, coordination and full utilization of available resources within the region will ensure efficacy of relief efforts. We also are grateful for the Obama Administration’s decision to suspend deportation and to grant Temporary Protective Status to undocumented Haitians living in this country. This action is keeping with America's proud history of supporting immigrants that have been battered by political conflict and catastrophic natural disasters.

The generosity and humanity of Americans and America, especially during such trying times, makes me proud.
-------------------------------------------------------------------Alvarez, a staff member at The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and immigrated to the United States in 1990 after the exile of then-president Jean-Claude Duvalier.
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