The first images of the destruction began flooding in almost immediately after the quake. At one point the death toll was estimated to be a staggering 500,000 people, a leading senator in Haiti told the Associated Press. Around the world, people struggled to grasp the severity of the demolition caused by last week’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit close to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and largest city.
Canada is home to roughly 100,000 Haitians, with Montreal having the largest Haitian community in the country. As news of the Jan. 12 disaster broke, many Montrealers scrambled to get any information they could about family and friends back home.
A second year psychology student at Concordia University, Charles-Smith Metellus, was one of them. Although he grew up in Montreal, his father lives in Haiti’s now-devastated Port-Au-Prince.
“I haven’t spoken to him directly, but I have a clue he’s alive,” said Metellus. “I called and someone answered, and I heard her call for my father and say, ‘There’s a call for you.’ But he never picked up.”
The situation is even more difficult because he and his father haven’t spoken for some time. Metellus did not visit his father the last time he was in Haiti. “It took me several months after to realize I wish I had indeed gone to see him and his family. I already wanted to go back just to make things right with my dad, to talk to him,” he said. “But I’m just a bit overwhelmed, because it’s a wake-up call, and I don’t know how to react. I need God to make the right choice.” He last spoke to his father a year ago.
As for Haiti, he said it presents a different way of life. “It’s possible to live there, but you have to do it in another state of mind. It’s easy to have a sense that it’s hopeless. But you can live, if you want to live for other people. You can’t rely on the government there. All you have is yourself, God, and others.”
The official death toll has waned in the days since the earthquake struck, with the Haitian Interior Minister reporting an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 lives lost.
Eleven Canadians had been confirmed dead, with 859 still missing in the Caribbean state as of Jan. 18, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said.
Donations are pouring in to aid organizations to help the survivors, many of whom have no home and restricted access to water and food. The federal government said it would match donations made by all Canadians up to $50 million.
At Concordia, the CSU, in conjunction with ACSioN Network and Ralliement Ã‰tudiant HaÃ¯ti-Canada, is organizing a two-week drive for money, clothing, tents, water and non-perishable food items.
“We have about 60 international students from Haiti,” said Amine Dabchy, president of the CSU. “Then we have at least a couple of hundred Haitian immigrants who still have family there. We know some of these students lost family members. We know the situation is chaos over there, and we want to help.”
Some collection boxes have been placed around the Sir George Williams campus. Dabchy said some boxes would be placed at Loyola this week, and more would be popping up downtown.
Funds will also be collected Jan. 20 during this year’s fourth cultural night presented by CSU and the Arts and Science Federation of Students. All the proceeds from “Bollywood Night” at the Hive will be put toward Concordia’s relief effort. As Dabchy explained, ASFA and the CSU agreed to contribute the full $5 cover fee paid by every student for the night.
This week’s Thirsty Thursday’s cover charge will be $1 extra, with half of those extra proceeds going toward the fund.
Monetary support collected from the students will be delivered to Haiti via Oxfam Quebec.