Local Community to Walk for Haiti

Jacques Fleury: The Haitian Firefly
Spare Change News

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” So let’s take a moment to remember the less fortunate and, instead of accumulating more “stuff” that we don’t really need, work to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti who have been deeply affected by the tragic earthquake on January 12. We should take advantage of opportunities to reach out in solidarity to those suffering in developing countries, such as Haiti. You have the perfect opportunity to do so on Saturday, March 27th, through the Seventh Annual Urban Walk for Haiti in Cambridge.

The event is co-sponsored by the Urban Walk for Haiti Committee and the Cambridge Mayor’s office to support the Boston-based organization, Partners In Health (PIH), which provides education and healthcare to the people of Haiti.

Aside from the short and scenic three-mile walk, which is perfect for people of all ages, the event includes a Haitian marketplace and quality Haitian entertainment. This year, an all-female Haitian music ensemble, ZiliMisik will be featured, along with Haitian drumming, a Haitian choir, dance, food, a few speakers and poetry from this author’s book Sparks in the Dark. There will also be a speech by a surprise guest from Partners In Health.

The Walk’s proceeds will be used to fund the construction and maintenance of schools this year in Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake. In the past, the Walk has supplied medicine, improved water and food programs, and helped to raise the standard of living. In the past six years, the Walk has raised nearly $250,000 dollars. This year, it hopes to raise enough money for the upkeep and construction of schools, and to pay for books, school fees, uniforms and food. Karen Fritsche, Outreach Coordinator for the Walk, is aware that some may say that PIH by definition should be geared towards just healthcare but she also emphasizes that education and food are both necessary to be considered healthy. “In Haiti, kids are dying as young as 20 years old because they have no way to make a living. They succumb to malnutrition and HIV/AIDS. If you don’t have shelter, you can’t be protected from disease; if you don’t have an education, you can’t know how to protect yourself and others from epidemics.”

This year, the emphasis is on raising funds for education, especially for a secondary, international baccalaureate school, run by PIH. If funds remain, the construction of a university on the Cange socio-medical complex of PIH will be initiated. PIH is meeting Dr. Farmer’s request for funds to return children to a normal life post-quake, both for children in the Cange region that was not destroyed by the quake, and children streaming in from Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area who were affected by the earthquake. Some of this latter group have been orphaned and/or injured, and all suffer from trauma and shock.

Why Partners In Health? PIH is the most reputable organization working in post-earthquake Haiti. Furthermore, the group has 20 years of experience working in the country. According to Andrew Marx, manager of Communications for PIH, the healthcare system in the Central Plateau, which has a total of seven hospitals, is said to be of such a high standard that they have a long list of patients from Port-au-Prince, and even Miami.

PIH provides assistance to patients in Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, and Guatemala and has smaller-scale operations in other developing countries. The Clinton Foundation adopted PIH’s successful program to treat HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis in poor countries. PIH’s model is also the one used by the World Health Organization.

PIH focuses on a community-based model, where they train local doctors and health workers. Their mission is stated as… “medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at [its] disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.” (Source: www.PIH.org) Their success lies in the use of ‘accompagnateurs’ or community health/Social workers. According to Marx, “They are responsible for making sure that their neighbors have access to help when they need it, a sort of outreach to provide health education, directly-observed therapy to ensure that they take their medications, have enough to eat and have suitable living conditions.” These community health workers are an important piece of the PIH model; PIH trains local doctors and nurses to carry out the majority of their operations, instead of relying on outsiders.

The upcoming Walk for Haiti event has greatly expanded beyond the involvement of a handful of schools and religious organizations in its first year. It now has a broader spectrum of participants, including groups from dozens of religious organizations and schools, the entire city of Cambridge, and colleges such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, Boston University and others from other nearby cities and towns throughout New England. “In past years, over 1,000 people have marched, and this year we’re expecting many more people to join us,” said Fritsche.

In response to the tragedy on January 12, the Walk for Haiti committee has developed a three-part approach to this year’s event: (1) awareness, (2) recovery and (3) hope. We aim to educate people about Haiti, its rich history, culture and resilient spirit; to focus a significant amount of attention and energy on helping Haiti recover through the fundraising effort itself; and to use the funds raised on the day of the Walk to facilitate the construction of schools to accommodate refugee children, who are streaming into the Central Plateau from Port-au-Prince. One hundred percent of all funds raised will directly support this effort.

Pledge sheets, flyers and instructions to group leaders are all available for download on the Walk website, www.WalkforHaiti.org. For donations of $100 or more, you can earn a beautiful t-shirt. Come celebrate at the pre-Walk party and familiarize yourself with what may be an unfamiliar country. The Walk will occur on March 27th, 2010. Registration begins at 12 noon at St. Paul’s Church, 29 Mt. Auburn St., near Harvard Square in Cambridge.

Come join us for this community event to help Haiti recover! For more information, please email UrbanWalkforHaiti@gmail.com or call Karen Fritsche, General Outreach Coordinator, at (860) 521-4150, with any Walk-related questions.

Jacques Fleury is a Poet, Author and Columnist; his book “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For personal appearances or comments, contact Jacques at: haitianfirefly@gmail.com.

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