While members of the Rockland County Haiti Relief campaign were trying to straighten out a poster on the outside of the Konbit Neg Lakay building in Spring Valley, they were playing one song on the loudspeaker on repeat.
The song must have played at least six times in a row, and featured the chorus, “Haiti, we’ll never forget you/ Never forget you/ Never ever forget you.” The song was written by Joeham & James Franklyn West and recorded this year in Rockland.
After the poster was straight and more than 40 more people had showed up, group members showed that they wouldn’t forget about Haiti. The group gathered for a candlelight vigil and moment of silence to honor the two-year anniversary of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti and killed more than 300,000 people. The group also met on the 1-year anniversary, and both years held a moment of silence at 4:53 p.m., which was the time the earthquake hit two years ago.
“The purpose for doing this each year is to just maintain the awareness in the community,” said Sandra Oates, coordinator of the campaign. “After today up until next year when this day comes, we want you to remember that even though life goes on with us that there are still people in Haiti that are struggling and suffering, and we’ve seen it first hand.”
T-shirts that read “Keeping The Hope of Haiti Alive” were handed out to the crowd, as were candles, which were then lit.
The Rockland County Haiti Relief campaign is an organization that started in 2008 when Haiti was facing a major food crisis, but has since expanded due to various natural disasters to hit the region, including the earthquake. Oates said that the group has helped more than 50,000 people over in Haiti.
“When you hear about the Rockland County Haiti Relief campaign and other local organizations that might be traveling to Haiti, think about them, think about the work that they’re doing,” she said. “If you’re able to, volunteer with them. If you’re able to contribute, contribute. Keep them in your prayers because the work that they do does not go unnoticed.”
While the event was held at Konbit Neg Lakay, a Haitian community center in Spring Valley, some who don’t have family ties to Haiti spoke at the vigil, including Azeem Farooki, of the Rockland Islamic Center. Rabbi Daniel Pernick from Pearl River’s Temple Beth Am spoke about an old discussion amongst rabbis about which is the most important commandment in the Bible. He quoted one rabbi’s case for which commandment is more important.
“The most important commandment is that God not only created us in the image of God, but that God let us know that we, all people, are created in the image of God regardless of what out race is, regardless of what our religion is, regardless of what country we live in, what our political beliefs are, which athletes are our favorite,” he said. “We have lots of things which divide us, but we are all created in the image of God.”
Pernick added that while only 20 Jewish people lived in Haiti, Israel was one of the earliest nation’s to send help, which they did in the form of mobile hospitals and more.
“That’s because we just believe that it’s not just about us,” he said. “It’s about all people.”
One of the sponsors of the campaign is Affinity Health Plan, which strives to provide high-quality healthcare plans to underserved populations. Eudson Tyson Francois, with Affinity, was born in Léogâne, the epicenter for 2010 earthquake, and lost many family members in the earthquake. He spoke at the vigil and directed a lot of his speech to the younger kids in the crowd.
“We need to unite not just today, we need to unite every day. We need to be thinking about our children over here as well as over there,” he said. “I say to you, young children, that the children of Haiti today are thinking about you, are thinking about how they can be where you are today. So when you go to school, make sure that you excel in everything you do.”
The campaign has other events going on this weekend, including:
- Haiti Relief youth forum from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday at the Louis Kurtz Civic Center - 9 North Main Street, Spring Valley
- Keeping the Hope of Haiti gospel concert from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday at the Sinai Seventh-Day Adventist Church - 7 Johnson Street, Spring Valley
- Keeping the Hope of Haiti Alive charity banquet at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Crowne Plaza - 3 Executive Boulevard., Montebello. For information on tickets, call (845) 659-1965.