Urgency for help in Haiti ‘always there’

The charity set up in the name of Belturbet man Andrew Grene is facing "serious challenges" following the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that ripped through part of Haiti last weekend.

Andrew's twin brother Gregory is planning to travel to the embattled Caribbean country this week to witness first hand the devastating impact on Haiti’s southern peninsula, closest to the earthquake’s epicentre.

The late Andrew Grene and his twin brother Gregory. From Belturbet, Andrew was an Irish UN worker who was killed in the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

Towns such as Jérémie and Les Cayes were left pulverised by the disaster that hit Saturday, August 14, with initial estimates placing the death toll at close to 1,300, and counting more than 5,700 wounded.

Andrew Grene was working with the United Nations in Haiti when he died during the earthquake of January 12, 2010. The Andrew Grene foundation was set-up in his memory, promoting education through the Andrew Grene High School in Port-au-Prince, and local microfinance initiatives through a Fonkoze branch in Aken.

While the buildings at the school near Haiti’s seaside capital were shaken, they seem to have withstood the worst of the shocks without damage.

But the microfinance branch building, mere miles from the epicentre, has suffered a significant structural crack, with Gregory reporting that, even at this early stage, it looks as if the foundation will need to source a new building from which to operate.

"Thankfully, everyone at the microfinance branch are accounted for and safe. That was our first concern. We're awaiting an engineer's report but, as of now, it doesn't look good. The clientele then we won’t yet know about for days, or maybe even weeks. A lot of them live in such remote parts that for now all we can do is hope for the best.

"As for the school then, very fortunately the school doesn't look to have been damaged. But the head teacher and many others have been sleeping out under the stars, concerned about any potential after-shocks that may occur. That's the worrying reality of life in Haiti right now," says Gregory who is determined to remain focused and not let his mind drift back to when and how his brother Andrew tragically lost his life.

"It's just an impossible place that I can't let my mind go to right now - not when there is so much at stake."

Gregory's single-day round-trip serves a dual purpose. He is hoping to attend the postponed graduation celebration for the 2020 final-year students at the Port-au-Prince high school.

Complicating matters is that much of Haiti has in recent months become the focus of a deadly struggle between police and heavily armed criminal gangs, not to mention widespread Covid infections, and the additional threat of Tropical Storm Grace looming high on the horizon.

The graduation celebration is being held off-site this year, as there are barricades on parts of the road leading to the school. Armed gangs have positioned themselves as the de-facto ruling power for a significant swath of the city in the absence of any functioning government.

"In general that area has been relatively unscathed by the breakdown in order, but this year has been a different matter, and more than any year before it has been a crazy path for our students, what with Covid, and the presidential assassination. Couple this to the general rise in the fabric of gangs, and now the earthquake and possible hurricane, it's made life there very difficult," explains Gregory, who likens what is occurring to 'no-go' areas in the North at the height of the Troubles.

The effort made getting there by Gregory is reflective of that of the students. Less than two per cent of all Haitians attain their final exams, yet across four days of final exams last year, Andrew Grene High School students achieved a 100% pass rate.

"They are remarkable," Gregory tells The Anglo-Celt. "The school itself remains an extraordinary beacon of light and hope amid a reign of chaos and impossibility that is daily life in Haiti. It is all the more important now, in the face of such adversity, that we continue to show our solidarity with them."

Despite their strict focus on education and microfinance, another topic for discussion on Gregory's trip will be with heads of the foundation on how best they can help without diluting their mission too far. "This though is such an exceptional circumstance, we're going to wrap our heads around it right now, and try and do something to help. Cavan really was the starting point of this foundation, the generosity shown after Andrew died is what started this off. This is not a guilt trip, only to say that all donations go directly to those on the ground. With an event like this, it sort of crystallises the urgency, but the truth is, in Haiti, that need is always there."