HAITI (WISH) - Fresh off a trip to the Super Bowl, Indianapolis Colts WideReceiver Pierre Garçon took another trip and 24-Hour News 8was the only local station to go “Home to Haiti” withPierre.
Our own Gene Rodriguez and photojournalist Kevin Hankins walkedthe streets with Pierre as he surveyed the damage, worked alongsidethe Garçon family as they fed the Haitian children anddocumented the NFL star's trek.
Accompanied by two of his three sisters, Marquissa and Gina, andhis mother, Marie Nicolas, this was Pierre's first trip back toHaiti since December of 2008. Even before the plane landed, Pierregot a glimpse of his homeland from his window seat.
Gene asked him about what he saw right away, "What did youthink? Did you see anything that was different, right away?"
"Seeing more tent cities, more of that, more tent cities. AndI'm seeing a lot of people out. That's usual, seeing a lot ofpeople out and about, going on. And seeing the houses… AndI've seen some destruction but that's not normal,” Pierresaid.
-- Extended video of the tent cities is available under the video player in the left margin of the story.
He wasn’t worried about what he would see once he gotthere he told Gene, "Nah, nah not worried about it at all,I’ve seen, I've watched the TV. I've seen it all.”
"What about your family?” Gene asked, “I know theyare joining you are they worried at all are they seeing.”
Emmanuel Christian School in Port-au-Prince was started in 1992. It currently educates about 500 students from Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Costs figured on an average per classroom basis indicate that $350 a month provides education and nutrition for the kids.
Northwest Haiti Christian Mission currently houses 187 orphans and 40 elderly adults. The mission has 11 schools and educates about 2500 children. In 2009 the mission provided 10,000 meals a day. But this year it’s closer to 15,000 meals a day.
"Um yeah,” Pierre paused “They are probably a littleworried about what they are seeing because it's a lot closer tohome, because they were born here and this is their home."
Pierre, the youngest of Marie Nicolas' four children, was bornin Florida. Her three older daughters were all born in Haiti. Mariemoved to Florida to earn a decent wage and support her family.Pierre's father died in Haiti when Pierre was only 6-years old. So,it was his mother who pushed him to get a good education and besuccessful. Now, Pierre is using that success to help hishomeland.
"We raised about $125,000 I think with a lot of support fromIndianapolis, Ohio, Florida all over the USA really. A lot ofpeople came out and showed their support I really appreciate that.And coming on this trip we are really trying to give back to thepeople who need it the most, help out. Give out food. We are goingto a school that we helped build," Pierre said.
In a country where 80 percent of the 10 million residents livedbelow the poverty line even before the quake, there is a greatneed.
After getting through customs, Pierre, his family and 24-HourNews 8’s Gene Rodriguez and Kevin Hankins boarded a bus boundfor Leogane, Haiti. It's where Marie grew up and Pierre spentsummers with cousins.
Pierre described the family’s emotion saying, "It's thefirst time back since the earthquake we are going to Leogane wheremy family is from to see our family to feed the people and hang outwith them and just show them a good time and let them know that wecare. And you know it's our family really."
There was excitement in Pierre's voice at the thought of seeinghis family, but it was a long bus ride with lots to see on the way.Pierre was quiet as he saw tent cities lining main roadways inPort-au-Prince.
It was an hour and a half ride to Leogane, where everyonestopped at a school that was honoring Pierre. Money he raised willhelp rebuild the school after the quake’s damage.
The people of Lifeline Christian Mission and Haitian ChristianOutreach, two organizations that have been in Haiti for decadesproviding social services and education, greeted Pierre with openarms. The school children gathered to meet the man who is helpingthem return to normal life and get back in the classroom. Still noproper roof on the building, only a blue tarp protected thechildren from the scorching sun. Donations to Pierre's HelpingHands Foundation will eventually put a roof over their heads.
After the welcome ceremony, Pierre talked to locals. GeneRodriguez reached out to Isaac Fils who has been working withLifeline Christian Mission for several years.
"It's a good thing here,” Fils said, “PierreGarçon back home after all the devastation we had in Haiti Iam so happy he is back home…He did a great thing for us. Wereally need help here. So, he give money to build this church andschool so it's very good, you know."
"Tell me what it looked like after the earthquake, can youdescribe it?” Gene asked, “What did it look like?"
"So, all, all, all that you see here was fall down,” Filssaid, “So that's new all those are new…It's because ofPierre, Pierre Garçon. So that’s why we appreciate that,you know. So, it's not finished yet but in a couple of days it'sgoing to be done. So happy for that."
Fils also served as Gene’s translator. Gene wanted tolearn more about a woman and the children accompanying her. Here iswhat Isaac learned and shared with Gene:
Gene: "Did she lose any family members?"
Isaac: "A sister lost two children."
Gene: "In the quake?"
Isaac: "During the earthquake."
Gene: “Were they here in Leogane?"
Isaac: "Oui (yes, in French and Creole), yes."
Gene: "Okay, okay."
Gene: "So, she's an orphan of the quake? She's anorphan because she lost her momma?"
Isaac: translates, "Oui, yes."
Gene: "Oh, Okay."
The little girl’s name is Megina. She is one of thehundreds of school children educated at the Leogane school thatPierre’s donations will help rebuild. Pierre wrapped up thisvisit to the school with a giveaway. What seems like a small tokento Americans will help feed a family of six. Inside a cooking potis rice, and a small toy for the child.
Pierre and his family continued to another part of Leogane wherethey saw family members. But the road through Leogane is a roughone, not always paved and showing evidence of the quake that killedthousands.
"Seeing the buildings, the buildings the roof total collapse youknow there is probably still bodies under there. You know theydon't have the equipment to go underneath there to get to start andto rebuild and remove that's why it's still there. And that's liketwo months after and it still looks the same as the day after ithappened. So, that's the tough part. Riding down these streets andseeing what's going on and what people are living through,“said Pierre.
But it's the same road that Pierre and his family have taken foryears to get to his mother's neighborhood.
Pierre continued, “It's a good experience coming backhere. The place has changed up a little bit but still the same homethe same place I am used to when I come back here all the time.It's where I spend most of my time at when I am here and it's justit's nice to be back. To see the people here they are still aroundand still be happy."
The family's Home still stands but neighbors weren't so lucky
Along the way, the bus stopped as Pierre saw more of his family.His mom and sisters have seen Pierre's NFL success in person, buthis Haitian family members have only seen it on TV. And TV is wherePierre and his family first saw the devastation of the 7.0 quakethat rocked his homeland. Now, Pierre and his family experienced itfirst-hand together.
"I'm glad they are here to see it with me and experience it withme. You know, they know that I, I am sure they've been watching ittoo and know what I have been going through and what I've beenseeing. Now to see it all together in real life besides on TV. Itkind of hit a little deeper, hit a little harder and you know itmakes you want to work a lot harder for them and for the peoplehere to try to get back to at least a normal life," admittedPierre.
Pierre’s mother Marie was silent throughout the bus ride.She only looked out the window to see her homeland in rubble. Geneasked Marie about the quiet bus ride; she answered in brokenEnglish.
Gene: "Tell me what you are seeing now when you see whathappened?"
Marie Nicolas (Pierre's mom): "I see different. I seedifferent because people lost their house, they lost everythingthey are on the ground they sleep in the bush...in the way. All theway you see people sleep. This is not happy. There are people nothappy. This is place for my country, I'm born. My family, my mamahouse, my sister, my brother house, my cousin house. All in thisplace is my family, they look sad. They don't have food, they don'thave good things to take care of their kids."
While Marie's family's home is still standing, it's a primitivestructure without the amenities we are used to, like a flushingtoilet. While that is not a result of the quake, it speaks to thecountry's conditions even before the quake hit. Poverty iseverywhere. Two thirds of the labor force are jobless. This is thepoorest country in the western hemisphere with most Haitians livingon less than $2 a day. Pierre has witnessed the need in hishomeland for years.
“Everybody is in need it's not just the earthquake,”he said, “it's hunger in the country it's poverty it's notjust the earthquake there is a lot of people that really neededjust needed help and need some people to help motivate them andinspire them and that's what I'm trying to do. Trying to help thewhole country."
His mother Marie agrees, “That's right they need help.Haiti need help and I help."
Day Two: Feeding the People
The first day in Haiti was a long and eventful one. Day twostarted with another school visit. The Emmanuel Christian Church,school and what will eventually also house the Good SamaritanMedical Clinic welcomed Pierre Garcon, the man that is helping themreturn to what life was like before the earthquake.
In their native language of Creole, Pierre tells the childrenthat education is the key to success. The school was still standingafter the earthquake but suffered damage. The top floor collapsedand needs to be replaced. And Pierre’s donations will helpthis school rebuild, too.
Gene Rodriguez talked to Mac Burberry with the Haiti ChristianOutreach about Pierre’s impact on the Haitian people.
"Pierre has come alongside three organizations to partner withus,” Burberry said, “ Pierre's work has helped us withthe distribution food that we will be distributing today. The foodwe are actually feeding children today is donated by sponsors whosponsor those kids and those classes. But Pierre is helping withthat distribution and then we have about 8,000 pounds of relieffood that we will be packing today and delivering to families inthis neighborhood and in one of the camps in nearby neighborhoods,as a result of Pierre's foundation."
“These Indianapolis folks that are giving money, it'sgoing to something" Gene asked.
"Exactly, the money is, yes. And we buy food and within 24 to 72hours we put that food in people's hands we don't store house foodhere. It's not safe, it's not wise but it's not the purpose of themoney. And so when people give money we buy the things that areneeded for the people and we deliver it within 24 to 72 hours andin this case it was over a weekend and that's why it became over 72hours," Burberry said.
Dozens of children received a hot meal from Pierre and hisfamily: it's a bowl of rice and beans with tuna on top, what isconsidered a nutritionally sound meal. It only costs 35 cents aserving.
And 5,000 US dollars can buy enough rice, beans, pasta, flourand vegetable oil to make 1,500 food packages. Each food packagemakes 20 meals. Pierre and his family donated the money to make allof the meals on this trip and they worked to make all the foodpackages and distributed them to the woman who gathered at theMission. However, during food distributions in Haiti there arecrowd control issues and the missions have to hire security tocontrol the crowds. That’s exactly what happened during thetrip.
Gene spoke to one of the women in the line to receive a foodpackage. Her name is Murielle Daverger and she only spoke Creole.So Gene used Roro Eustache, one of the Mission employees, to helpin the translation. Here is the conversation:
Murielle told her story saying, "I have only 1 child but I haveseveral brothers and sisters who are my responsibility that I feed.When I cook for them at my house I not only feed my six people wholive with me but I also feed people in the church who cannot affordto eat."
Andrew Bonner, Hyacinth Williams and Patrick Tolbert contributed to this story.
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