IRISH BEAT IN MUSIC BENEFIT FOR HAITI
The 18-piece Haitian rara band was one of more than a dozen groups that played a special benefit Wednesday night to raise funds for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Toussaint, 34, an unemployed livery cabdriver from Brooklyn, lost two cousins, three uncles, two aunts, countless friends and Milan Jeune – the mother of his 8-year-old son, Mike – all of whom lived in Port-au-Prince.
“I love my music, but my heart is torn when I think about my son being alone and losing family members,” he said after the band had played a rousing instrumental.
An estimated 400 people attended the fund-raiser, dubbed Relief for Haiti: Island People Supporting Island People, organized by a the nonprofit Irish American Writers and Artists Inc.
The crowd applauded loudly when Ireland‘s minister for labor affairs, Dara Calleaoy – in New York to promote his country – announced the Irish government would donate $50,000 to the effort. A group of Texas entrepreneurs pledged a matching $50,000 donation.
When the night was over, the benefit had raised $107,000.
“When disaster strikes, island people are made vulnerable by the very thing that makes them unique. Surrounded by water, they become dependent on the outside world for basic supplies,” said T.J. English, an author and co-founder of Irish American Writers and Artists Inc.
“Few people know this better than the Irish,” he said. “The earthquake that struck Haiti last month is on a scale equivalent to the Great Famine in Ireland.”
Singer-guitarist Ashley Davis of Manhattan, who performed at the fund-raiser, said: “I think it is an extraordinary cause with talented people from different communities bonding in a heartwarming appeal. I am a true believer in if you can help, then you should rally around those who need help.”
Concern Worldwide, a Dublin-based humanitarian relief agency, will manage the money – including $7,000 donated by individuals – collected Wednesday night at Connolly’s. The funds are earmarked to send food and water and help improve sanitation in the earthquake-ravaged area.
Concern Worldwide CEO Tom Arnold, who visited Haiti five days after the killer quake, said: “Sanitation is critical, and we plan to send 160 tons of food in the next few weeks.”
That’s some comfort to Toussaint and others, who know that the situation in Haiti remains desperate.
“I call my son every two days,” Toussaint said. “The last time I spoke to him he said: ‘Daddy, I’m hungry. I’m dying. Come and get me.’ He misses his mother.”
He says he makes little money with the band and has sent only $50 to his son.
“That is all I can afford,” he said. “I want to go back and get my son. But it is not easy. I can’t just go there and take him. I have to pay for tickets and fill out documents.”
Band member/manager Claude Jean, 49, has three sisters and their families living in tents on a street in Croix-des-Bouquets.
He plans to go back in March to help them.
“I send them as much money as I can, and when I go back, I will take more money,” said Jean, a super in a Manhattan building.
“It took me five days to contact them after the earthquake. I was upset. I couldn’t sleep. I was crying.”