FORT VALLEY — Evens Jean Baptiste, a guitar player turned construction worker, left his Haitian homeland a decade and a half ago. He settled in Peach County with his American wife.
Wednesday, he watched television news footage of his earthquake-torn hometown and wondered about the well-being of his brother, uncle, niece and nephew who live there.
“It’s not like I’m glad I’m here,” Jean Baptiste said. “But I’m glad I’m not a victim of that.”
Speaking in English that, though broken at times, is very understandable, he said, “In my country, we care for each other. We ain’t got to be family to help each other out. We are blood. We’ve got a problem with the government, not with each other. ... We might be poor, but we are proud. Right now we need help.”
The 50-year-old from Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince fled the civil unrest there in the mid 1990s and has never returned. He and his family live in an apartment at the Fellowship Temple of the Living God on U.S. 341, just south of Fort Valley.
As for his kin, Jean Baptiste could only hope they were safe.
“Right now,” he said, “nobody can get no communications with nobody. But it’s not just my family. I’m worried about the whole country.”
He calls the United States “a paradise” compared to Haiti.
“When I came here,” he said, “I thought, ‘Whoa, my country look like a trash can.’ ’’
In Macon, St. Francis Episcopal Church on Forest Hill Road meets regularly at The Shamrock restaurant to collect money and supplies for a group of 400 children associated with St. Mark’s Church in Haiti. The Shamrock itself regularly donates to the charity.
Marcia Aldridge, who has been involved with the charity Haitian Hope for five years, said she knows of at least four people associated with St. Mark’s who have died and believes the church building was destroyed.
“I’m totally, totally devastated,” Aldridge said. “We’ve developed a relationship with the people. It’s not some foreigners in some place, but our friends. I saw the people on CNN, and they didn’t have anything to begin with. What can you say? Haiti never seems to get a break.”
Aldridge said the charity has been trying to help the island recover from three hurricanes and a tropical storm that hit there in November 2008. She said Haitians haven’t been able to replace all the cattle lost from that time.
Aldridge said the church is collecting money for relief efforts. Part of the money will go to the 400 children the church already supports, while part of it will go to general relief efforts. She said the group raises about $40,000 per year.
Gail Moulton, another member of St. Francis Episcopal Church, was supposed to travel to Haiti on Tuesday for what would have been her fourth trip there. She said she spent most of Wednesday surfing the Internet, trying to gather whatever information she could about the temblor.
“I can’t see how they take it one more time,” she said. “They are a beautiful, spiritual people. They never give up.”
Beth Wilson of Macon was in Haiti late last month on a mission trip from her church, Forest Hills United Methodist. The congregation was having a prayer vigil Wednesday night, she said.
In Haiti, Wilson saw living conditions for many people there that were almost unimaginable.
“This country was in such dire need even before the earthquake,” Wilson said. “Until you see it, it’s hard to fully grasp. The structures there, the way they’re built, there’s no way they could hold up.”
Wilson’s mission group, which was in Haiti for a week, set up a medical clinic and hosted a Bible school. They were working in a community believed to have been outside the quake-damaged region. The group also is helping fund a new church and a school.
“When I saw the earthquake had happened, I thought, ‘Had we been there when this happened, who knows when we’d have gotten back here,’’’ Wilson said. “But we have a desire to go back right now. So it’s torn emotions.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.