Hicksville, L.I. Having just returned from an eight-day post-disaster relief trip to Haiti, I was delighted to be invited to an earthquake benefit dinner at C.W. Post on Long Island to discuss what I had learned.
The Latin-American Women’s Society of the university was hosting the event, and its president Diana Gutierrez had reached out to me. The event was co-hosted by the Latino fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha.
As I took the Long Island Railroad out to Hicksville, on a suddenly hot New York day – reminding me of the heat I had just left behind in Haiti – I wondered what would most interest the audience?
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and their relationship has been contentious for hundreds of years. The highly-recommended book Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola covers this topic in depth. Yet in Haiti, last week, I noted enormous help from the Dominican Republic – and certainly Santa Domingo was a major relief base for Haitian rescue and recovery.
The Prima Dama of the Dominican Republic, First Lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, J.D., speaks English fluently, having studied around the world including Georgetown and Harvard. In meetings with her, she has reminded me of our own powerful woman, Hillary Clinton.
Our team of NGO leaders in Haiti had partnered with the local leadership of a still-standing three-story school in Léogâne. Our various organizations are working towards assisting our Haitian partners with elementary, secondary, and vocational education, in addition to orphan care, clean water, and Internet Connectivity.
Through my long-time friend Maria Rodriguez, a Dominican-American political assistant, I have already appealed to the Dominican First Lady’s Office for whatever assistance they can give us in Léogâne.
I was intrigued why these Latin-American students on Long Island wanted to help their Haitian contemporaries. I spoke with the students individually afterward and heard the same themes repeated again and again:
We are all humans. They need our help. So we give it freely.
Knowing that when others need help, you need to put aside your differences.
Hopefully they would do the same for us if we needed assistance.
The dinner itself was graceful, held in the Tilles Center Grand Lobby. The festive tables were carefully set by the men and women, and an awards banquet followed in which I was presented a $1,000 check from the students for Orphans International Worldwide Haiti (OIWW).
I explained to the Long Island college students that a university in China had agreed to award 10 of our students in Haiti a full-scholarship to their four-year program – including transportation and room and board. After having recently interviewed almost 200 high school graduate applicants in Leogane, we had decried that we would take the top 40 and further train them for one year in English and inter-cultural skills before sending them on to Beijing.
Postponing their education for one year further allowed us to spend time in looking for additional scholarships around the world – particularly here in the U.S. for the remaining 30 Haitian high school graduates.
I explained as I accepted the $1,000 check from Diana Gutierrez that the only part of the program un-funded was how to pay the Haitian teacher $100 per month for the ten-month training program. We remained exactly $1,000 short of our program needs. Lo and behold, the Latino and Latina groups on Long Island had banded together to give us this exact amount!
It amazed me that student s—the majority of them who are attending university for the first time in their families – care enough and have the ability to care about others. I am deeply impressed by the Latino College Students of Long island, representing both the Latin-American Women’s Society and Phi Iota Alpha.
Thanks to students who care so deeply about humanity, Orphans International Worldwide is able to Raise Global Citizens. These students will continue to grow into responsible America though leaders, and play a large role in connecting goodness internationally. I am deeply honored to know them.