Haitians living in the Dallas area came together last night to grieve for a country wrecked by last week's earthquakes (and this week's aftershocks) that have left an estimated 200,000 dead. Dieula Previlon, a young Haitian woman who moved here when she was in the fifth grade, said it was critical that the local Haitian population come together, if only to share their grief and offer comfort. Previlon served as "mistress of ceremony" last night at the religious service held inside the the Dallas Center for Community Corporation on Live Oak Street.
"This was a time for us to come together and share with each other our hurts and pain and for us not to have to explain our hurts and pain because they get it," she said, pointing to the more than 50 people seated and standing inside the room.
Esther Dureeus-Reynolds, the founder of Beth-Hanan Foundation and Texas Haitian Coalition, organized the meeting to "provide support and encouragement to Haitians here locally and to discuss how we can attempt to help our country." She addressed the crowded: "Words cannot express what our hearts are going through."
The program included song, scripture reading, dance and talks from various ministers and an address from one man who had lost his brother in the earthquake. The common message was that Haiti would soon be rebuilt, and that it would be better than before.
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"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," said Dumarsais Simeus, founder of Simeus Foundation and Sove Lavi. "We are going to use this crisis as a wake-up call to rebuild Haiti the right way."
Practical information was also provided at the meeting when Alfonso Gonzalez from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke about temporary immigration relief provided through his office. Last Friday, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, announced the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the U.S. when the earthquake struck, allowing them to continue living and working in the U.S. for the next 18 months. Returning now would endanger their personal safety.
One woman in the crowd found herself in tears throughout the night. Christelle Joseph, who now lives in Irving, wore a bandana decorated with the Haitian flag. Her mother and siblings are in Haiti now, and she's been unable to reach them. She seemed unable to reconcile her convenient life and access to as much clean water as she'd like with what's happening in Haiti.
"I wasn't crying for only my family," she said. "I was just crying for everybody."