After the earthquake, nine-year-old Peterson Exais was trapped under rubble for four days. Once he was rescued, Peterson was rushed to a tent hospital in Port-au-Prince. Chad Perlyn was the first doctor available. He is a pediatric plastic surgeon at Miami Children’s Hospital.
Perlyn knew the tent hospital was not equipped to treat Peterson. So he put the boy on a list for treatment at one of the U.S. hospitals that were tending to young earthquake victims– hospitals in far-flung cities like Orlando, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
After January’s massive earthquake, thousands of Haitians fled to the United States. More than 2,500 of them were school-aged kids who were quickly placed in classrooms across South Florida.
The new students were suddenly immersed in a foreign language, culture, and school system. It could have been a bewildering experience. But at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, the Haitian students who lived in South Florida before the quake took the recent arrivals under their wings.
A few days after the earthquake, the U.S. government decided that Haitians living in the United States would be eligible for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. However, there has been much confusion about who can apply, how you apply and what happens after you apply for TPS.
For example, only Haitians who were living in the United States before the earthquake are eligible for TPS. As Alicia Zuckerman discovered, some Haitians refer to TPS as “Ti Pelen Sosyal”– Kreyol for “L’il Social Trap”– because they fear that they may be deported if they apply.
When Rev. Jean-Mary Reginald learned about the massive earthquake in Haiti, he reflexively walked to his church– Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti– and opened the doors. People began to arrive immediately. The church, he says, “is the living room” of the Haitian-American community in South Florida.
This hymn is the one you hear under our piece, “Faith in the Aftermath.” The original segment explores how parishioners at Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church here in Miami leaned on their faith and on song after their country’s massive earthquake– to heal and to release their grief.
In this episode, we look at how the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti changed life here in South Florida. We tell stories from a school that absorbed quake survivors, from a church that opened its doors to the grief-stricken, from lawyers’ offices where Haitians applied for an immigration shield, and from a hospital tent where tired doctors were uplifted by a song.
While I was reporting on the earthquake in Haiti, I was often taken aback by people singing. Walking down the street, a nun stretched her palms to the sky and seemed to be singing a question to the heavens. And on my last night in Port-au-Prince, I recorded quake survivors singing at 3 a.m., as they danced around a tent camp– no toilets, no air conditioning, little food– singing.
Hundreds of medical professionals rushed to Haiti after the quake, working in miserable conditions to save lives, practicing what some called “Civil War medicine.” Many still return to lend a hand, among them scores of Haitian-American nurses, doctors, and social workers from South Florida.
This piece reconstructs an inspiring moment amid tragedy and pain, at a makeshift hospital tent in Port-au-Prince. In it, four medical professionals from South Florida recount their experience landing in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, and struggling to meet a desperate need for medical help.
One describes the situation as “a war zone.” Another describes a feeling of worthlessness, given the scale of the catastrophe.
Gracia Desille is 57, a grandmother and a dry cleaner. After Haiti’s earthquake, she became one of thousands of Haitian-Americans in South Florida desperately searching for news about their families back home.
“I try try… call. I buy (phone) cards. I buy cards. So many cards…” she told me. “Nobody answers.”
The day after Haiti’s devastating quake I walked into Notre Dame D’Haiti church in Miami to find people singing hymns, their palms turned to the sky, their rosary beads swinging gently. Some knelt, slouching over the pews in front of them, heads buried– a posture that suggested grief as much as prayer.
Little Haiti seemed to be moving in slow motion as people first grappled with the magnitude of the destruction in their homeland.
We caught up with hip-hop artist Mecca aka Grimo at a recent TPS rally. TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is short-hand for a legal shield that allows immigrants to remain in the United States temporarily, while their home country recovers from natural disaster, or unrest. Haiti has seen plenty of both, but Haitians have never received the protection.