Two years after the horrific earthquake which decimated Haiti and claimed the lives of 200,000 people, the first international Haiti Week will take place in Ireland from January 21 to 28, to raise vital funds for the poverty-stricken country.
Westport’s Gena Heraty witnessed the catastrophic earthquake on January 12, 2010, which hit the tiny impoverished country, injuring tens of thousands and leaving approximately one and a half million people homeless.
Speaking just days after the earthquake Ms Heraty, a former Irish International Person of the Year, said that her family were initiating a major fundraising initiative and she called for urgent help and assistance from the people of Mayo and Ireland. She added, “I just need prayers and money.”
Two years on and the response from Ireland has made a huge difference. Almost one million homeless people have been given shelter and the fundraising efforts have helped to partially rebuild the infrastructure and provide people with their basic human requirements.
A variety of events and activities will now be held throughout Ireland during Haiti Week in order to raise $10 million to build a giant kitchen that can feed 450 starving children.
It is proposed that the kitchen will be constructed on the same site where Gena Heraty currently lives with 30 Haitian children with special needs.
While Gena Heraty continues her immense humanitarian work in Haiti, freelance humanitarian worker and Liscarney resident Declan Tunney is an embodiment of the powerful work which is being done in Ireland to highlight the plight of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
He said that the objective of Haiti Week is to raise awareness of Haiti through art, music and the business community, and to help to empower a country and a people who have many cultural and historic similarities to Ireland.
“We have so much in common with Haiti. If you juxtapose Ireland during the famine, we were similar in population. We were a small country, with no real resources. 80 per cent of people in Haiti are unemployed. 80 per cent of the population live on less than 42 cent a day, while 50 per cent live on less than $1 a day so Haiti has a lot of connections with Ireland,” said Mr Tunney.
The Dublin native who now lives in Mayo said this shared pain is one of the main reasons that Irish people feel a need to reach out and help those that are worse off or suffering in tragic circumstances. Despite the magnificent work which has been done there are still almost 600,000 people in Haiti living in tents and under plastic sheeting. This is nearly twice the population of Cork city, living in deplorable conditions on an island one third the size of Ireland.
Haiti Week was officially launched in Dublin on October 9 by President Bill Clinton whose Clinton Foundation has raised millions of dollars for the country. Digicel Group founder and chairman Denis O’Brien also recently witnessed the opening of the 50th school that his vast telecommunications company has financed since the earthquake struck in 2010.
Locally, a big fundraising dance will take place in the Castlecourt Hotel in Westport on Sunday night next, January 22, with music by Twice as Nice.
All funds raised will go directly to Gena Heraty in Haiti. The account for the Gena Heraty Haiti Fund at AIB, Westport is 11108008, sort code 93-71-69. All donations will be gratefully accepted.