Update: Maine-based Haiti partnership focuses on medical support, starts earthquake relief fund

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PORTLAND — A local nonprofit that works to improve health care in Haiti has set up a recovery fund to help those in the earthquake-ravaged country, and the director of the group is headed there this weekend.

Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, said he still plans to make the trip to Cap-Haitien, a city on the north coast of Haiti, about 80 miles from Port-au-Prince, despite the earthquake of magnitude 7.0 that struck on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Nickerson said his organization heard from staff in Cap-Haitien around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“We’ve been calling and e-mailing,” he said. “We just got our first e-mail from our in-country director there.”

Konbit Sante has 26 Haitian staff in Cap-Haitien and one volunteer from America. They were reportedly fine, but Nickerson said the program director was trying to contact her husband, a doctor in Port-au-Prince. Her neighbor, Nickerson said, had informed her that her house was destroyed and she fears her husband may be dead.

“It’s still very sketchy there,” he said. “The quake for them was terrifying, but the damage was not as severe as in Port-au-Prince.”

Konbit Sante has earmarked $25,000 for its earthquake fund, which will go toward supporting health needs related to the earthquake. To donate, go to healthyhaiti.org

Tuesday’s earthquake hit shortly before 5 p.m. in Haiti. President Rene Preval told the Miami Herald that banks, hospitals, schools and Parliament were destroyed. He said he feared hundreds of thousands of people were dead. The earthquake is said to have affected about 3 million people.

Nickerson said earlier this week he expected people would try to make the difficult mountain trip to Cap-Haitien from the Port-au-Prince area for medical help, because hospitals in the capital city have been destroyed. On Thursday, Nickerson reported that UN helicopters were transporting critical patients to the Justinian Hospital in Cap-Haitien.

“I suspect we’ll support that part of the health system that is still standing,” he said. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In addition to Nickerson, a student volunteer and a members of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth were supposed to travel to Haiti on Saturday.

The church has a partnership with St. Luc’s Church and School in Trou-du-Nord, Haiti, which is about 25 miles from Cap Haitien.

Sara Merrill from St. Alban’s said her group has postponed its trip.

“I don’t even know if we’d be able to get into the country,” Merrill said Wednesday. “We also don’t want to be in the way of immediate emergency relief trying to fly in.”

St. Alban’s has had a partnership with St. Luc’s since 2007 and this would have been the third mission. St. Luke’s Church in Wilton is also a partner of St. Luc’s and one member of that parish was supposed to make the trip.

“It’s just really sad,” Merrill said. She has been in touch with St. Luc’s, she said, and was told damage was minimal but that the mother, wife and four sons of the leader of the parish there lived in Port-au-Prince and were missing.

“Everyone in Haiti has family on Port-au-Prince,” Merrill said.

Konbit Sante’s volunteers, many of whom are medical professionals and engineers, work with medical providers in Cap-Haitien to improve the health system there. The city is Portland’s Haitien sister city.

On Thursday, Mayor Nick Mavodones said Portland emergency workers are prepared to help in Haiti if called upon. He also encouraged residents to help with the humanitarian effort in Haiti by donating money. The city is collecting donations in the city manager’s office at City Hall for the Konbit Sante fund.

Additionally, all proceeds from the Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Concert at Merrill Auditorium on Sunday will go to relief efforts. Tickets for the concert can be purchased at the Merrill box office.

For information on how to help Haiti, go to redcross.org. Instant donations $10 can be made by texting HAITI to 90999. The charge will appear on your cell phone bill, but there is no messaging charge and fees typcially paid by the Red Cross to mobile donations provider mGive have been waived, too.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

This report was updated on Jan. 15.