For four days, Marie Alice Similien believed her family was dead. When the earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, all communication Similien had with her family was lost.
For four days, Marie Alice Similien believed her family was dead.
When the earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, all communication Similien had with her family was lost. Watching the footage on television — the destroyed buildings, the crying children and the injured people — Similien believed she had no other choice but to assume the worst.
“That was the worst part of it all,” said the Hyde Park resident in a phone interview Saturday. “I was just in agony because I didn’t know what happened to any of my family.”
After her brother finally got in contact with her four days after the initial quake that killed an estimated 200,000 people and devastated the capital city of Port-Au-Prince, Similien found out that her 16-year-old brother and a woman she considered her older sister were killed.
For the rest of her family, the worst was yet to come.
“It’s harder for the ones who are alive right now,” Similien said, her voice breaking. “They’re living on the streets because even the houses that did not fall down are unsafe. They’re afraid to go back into houses.”
This is where Ethos, a nonprofit agency serving elderly and disabled people in Boston, stepped in. Similien is a protective service worker for the agency and one of about 15 Haitian employees with families in Haiti right now.
“All but three of our Haitian employees’ immediate families have been impacted,” Ethos Executive Director Dale Mitchell said. “All of their family members in the Port-Au-Prince area have been rendered homeless. They’re all living essentially on the streets. Many of them, a significant number, have been seriously injured and only now are receiving medical care … many of them have had multiple family members killed.”
One Ethos employee, David Pierre, a home-delivered meals driver, was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. He was supposed to return to work on Feb. 10, but Mitchell said he has yet to hear from him.
With his Haitian employees in mind, as well as the about 50 Haitian clients Ethos serves, Mitchell established the Ethos Haitian Relief Fund to provide help for his employees and clients’families in Haiti.
The agency has so far raised about $7,000.
“We’ve never experienced a situation like this,” Mitchell said. “We’re not used to situations in which a whole group of people are affected by an event like this. This is the first time. We really value our Haitian staff and our Haitian clientele, and everyone is turning up for them. It’s very heartwarming. It’s been very reassuring that people care for each other in these kinds of ways.”
The fund will go directly to help the families of Ethos employees and clients, in whatever way will best help them, Mitchell said. One staff member is trying to get his elderly mother out of Haiti and to Boston to live with him, while others are asking for supplies.
“The family of one employee is begging her for a tent,” Mitchell said. “To talk to your family, and to feel that relief that they’re all right, but that they’re injured, that they’re sleeping out in the rubble, that they need a tent — that’s heartbreaking.”
Similien said what she thinks her family needs most right now is shelter and food. She said is grateful for Ethos’ efforts, and that she is “touched” at the support the world is showing for Haiti.
“The world has come together to help the Haitian community,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the world has to come together for such an occasion, but I couldn’t believe it. I was watching the telethon on Friday and seeing all these people from around the world coming together. I was really touched.”
The most difficult part for the Haitian Ethos employees and clients is that no matter what, they’re all affected in some way or another, Similien said.
“Being Haitian, we’re still suffering with them because it’s all of us,” she said. “It’s everybody. There isn’t anybody who isn’t affected by it.
“I never thought I would live to see such destruction in my own country,” Similien said, her voice thick with emotion. “To see it like that, I am so sick. Haiti used to be paradise. I don’t know why God let that happen.”
Mitchell said although the mood has been somber, the Haitian staff still continues to work hard.
“I’ve been extremely impressed by the stoicism of the staff here, particularly the Haitian staff who came to work every day not knowing what was going on with their brothers and their sisters, their mothers, their fathers, their nieces and nephews,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with their ability to carry on. Under the circumstances, I don’t know how I would be able to react.”
Although the staff is still waiting for some word on missing employee David Pierre, Mitchell said they’re still hoping for the best.
As for her family and her country, Similien said she too is staying optimistic.
“Haitian people are very courageous and despite it all, even though they’re hungry, all of them are smiling,” she said. “They’re very courageous, they’re very strong. We will survive.”