NEW ROADS — A handful of New Roads and Baton Rouge residents hope to hold a fundraising cultural fair at Southern University on Jan. 12 — the anniversary of the earthquake that killed tens of thousands of Haitians less than two years ago — for clothes, other supplies and eventually a school in Léogâne.
Edna Jordan Smith worked for years as a genealogist with the East Baton Rouge Parish library system and with several organizations dedicated to expanding knowledge about African-American heritage in Louisiana.
“Many people are not aware of their Haitian background,” Smith said Sunday at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. “There have been ... so many generations, and many of them are mixed in with everybody else.”
Smith said she wants the group’s efforts to serve as a “family reunion” for Haitians in Louisiana, many of whom descended from refugees who came here during the country’s revolution at the beginning of the 19th century.
Joseph Charles, a surgeon who founded a health clinic in Léogâne decades ago, spoke in French about his plans to finish building a 100-bed hospital that was partially complete in 2010 when the earthquake destroyed most of it.
The hospital reopened in a smaller, temporary building but can only provide routine procedures for 25 patients at a time, he said.
Charles’ son, who grew up in Léogâne and now lives in Denver, interpreted for him.
“Right now all we have in the region is international medical teams that come and set up shop in little shanty hospitals,” Jodel Charles said. “One day they’re going to leave, and Léogâne is going to be left without an adequate structure to give care to the population that’s obviously in dire need after the quake.”
Jodel Charles explained plans to rebuild the hospital and make it self-sufficient by opening a hotel to generate funding and a school to train Haitians in midwifery; auxiliary medical services; information technology and construction and solar engineering. He said people in Léogâne live on an average of $1.75 a day, and these courses would help them improve their circumstances.
Charles is also working with Jean Monts, director of orchestral studies at Loyola University in New Orleans, to incorporate music training. Monts works with Haitian Youth Music Relief, a program aimed at using music as therapy for people who were traumatized by the disaster.
“The goal is to empower Haitians to take active part in the rebuilding of the country and of their livelihood,” Charles said. “So not a handout all the time but equipping them with the tools they need.”