Friday, January 22, 2010

Candlelit Vigils, "Help For Haiti"

On the FIU campus Wednesday night there was a candlelit vigil and rally for the charity "Help for Haiti," to show our solidarity with the victims of this horrific disaster and collect canned foods and other things. This makes sense, since this state has the highest percentage of Haitian-born and Haitian-American students.

There was a part where a lot of students were asked to come up and give their stories about what happened, which really puts a human face on a numbing statistic like an estimated 150,000 person death toll. For instance, lots of students came up and talked about people in their immediate families that had suffered. One young man talked about his cousin, a pretty 19 year old girl, that lost both of her legs. Another mentioned how his sister wept because it had been two days since she last heard from her fiancee, who was now considered legally dead.

There were many stories of survival, too. One girl talked about how terrified she was to have seen the president's house collapse, because her mother was a teacher only three blocks away. Apparently the mother was lucky enough to survive, but over 250 students and teachers in the school were crushed to death.

One of the funnier parts of the candle-lit vigil was a Colombian speaker that looked a little like a Latin American version of the Nazi villain from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and dressed like him too, tiny glasses and hat and all. The Haitian students were delighted to hear this unlikely person bust into the most perfect Creole, since apparently the Colombian lived in Haiti for a couple years. I only know enough French to figure out he said something about how great Haitian food is.

Through it all, I was amazed to find that not a single person there of Haitian descent gave into despair. Even those that talked about the horrifying losses of their loved ones talked about how they refused to consider the country wrecked or licked, that they had the whole human race's fundamental goodness on their side. By contrast, a few days after 9/11, I was in a delirious, fearful daze, as were most people I knew.

To see them this upbeat and unconquered so soon after a disaster on a much more horrifying scale was an incredibly admirable sight. I was very, very proud of the Haitian people that night.

The single most moving thing of the entire night was one girl that started to sing Amazing Grace (there were a lot of religious songs and spirituals, which have the usual effect of making me enormously uncomfortable). Halfway through the song, she started to break down and cry and couldn't continue.

Then, spontaneously, everyone in attendance (myself included) started to sing the rest of the song together in unison.

If you've got anything to give, please, try these charities:

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