story & photos
by Maren Schober
Two days before Haitian Hope Day, I talk with Beverly Goulet, director, Human Services, Norwich. “A Day of Hope is being planned for Saturday, January 23rd,” she tells me. “We are going to set aside a day where we come together with the Haitian community and listen to them, really listen to them. We don’t want to try and tell them what they should do; we want them to tell us what they need and how Norwich can help them.”
There are about 4,000 Haitians living in Norwich who are distressed, as they try to communicate with their relatives in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake of January 12th.
Haitian Hope Day was hosted by the Norwich Free Academy in the Slater Auditorium and many volunteers showed up to help. Joe Apicelli, along with 11 other volunteers from the Waterford American Red Cross, were on hand to greet the Haitian families and to give them some important new information.
“We want the Haitian community to know about the Family Links website. It is aimed at enabling people in Haiti to register names of relatives they are trying to connect with. Both those searching for people and people in the disaster area will be able to enter information and search for their loved ones on this site: www.icrc.org/familylinks,” shares Joe. Throughout the day, Haitians were shown exactly how to do this on a computer that was set up for this purpose.
NFA students sat at tables and accepted donations for the cause. At the end of the day it was announced that about $4,000 was collected, all of which is sent to the Red Cross working in Haiti!
Christian Haitian leaders, along with school and city officials, shared the podium on stage, conveying their hope and support. “The family is the central piece of Haitian culture,” Dr. Mark Cohen, Superintendent, NFA tells us. “We feel a strong connection with all Haitian family members. Haiti will be stronger because of this.”
Next at the podium was Pastor Olivio, First Haitian Baptist Church of Norwich. “I thank all Americans for letting us live here. If we were not living here, we would probably all be dead!” he stated emphatically referring to the earthquake. He also added “Please help us to reconstruct in Haiti.”
City Mayor Peter Nystrom was so moved he struggled to find the words. “Long lines of Haitians are pouring out of Port-au-Prince carrying their dead loved ones with them so they don’t lose them. Just imagine what that is like,” he remarked.
Leo Butler, Director of Diversity, NFA, reflected, “The day after the earthquake Haitian students filled my office and we prayed and cried together.” He exclaimed that “Two days after the earthquake not one Haitian student missed their exams!”
Words of love, support and unity were spoken and we were all encouraged. After the speeches various groups performed on stage including, Haitian Singers, Rose City Barbershop Chorus, America’s Best Defense Martial Arts, Artists in Motion, Bullybuster’s Rhythm Circle, Sarah Bouzon,Guitar, NFA Gospel Choir and Dance Team.
I met and talked with Haitian families who said that all their relatives are surviving and they are very happy about that. The day ended with renewed hope and cheer. Important connections were made and spirits were lifted. We will long remember this day of unity.