Helping Haiti

by Ilona Kauremszky
The Globe and Mail
January 23, 2010

Cabrera, Dominican Republic Life is slow on the country roads in the Dominican Republic. “There is an assistant for every assistant,” goes the running joke, but little gets done anyway.

Last Tuesday life changed, literally overnight.

I was in the Dominican Republic with my other half for what was supposed to be a week of fun in the sun when the earthquake struck. That day we walked the coastline, oblivious to the destruction unfolding in Haiti, a 10-hour drive away. That evening, though, all eyes were fixed on the television above the bar at Hotel La Catalina as CNN announced the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorded in the area, and broadcast a tsunami alert for the Dominican Republic and other islands.

We sat, in silence at first, stunned by the scenes unfolding on the screen. Laptops and iPhones lined the counter as guests tried for more information and to contact loved ones elsewhere.

The hotel bar quickly morphed into a Haiti relief headquarters; most of the guests contemplated the role they could and should play in the effort. Stephen and Kathryn Stafford, owners of Manoir Hovey in North Hatley, Que., tried to help a Haitian hotel employee call relatives in Port-au-Prince, and took advantage of the Canadian government's promise to match donations. Despite the feeling of utter helplessness, no one wanted to leave – and as no one knew how to administer medical aid, we dismissed the idea of actually travelling into Haiti to offer assistance.

Sylvie, a Canadian living on the two-nation island, felt the earth shake when the quake struck. “I was sitting at the bar and the table moved, the lights swayed,” she said. Sylvie abandoned her seaside home for higher ground that night, and headed straight to city hall in the tiny town of Cabrera in the morning. “I asked them what the plan was to help Haiti. People started to make phone calls, and within a half hour the town's mayor and council members were on board.”

An island torn apart by a bitter history, the Dominican Republic and Haiti were instantly bound by this natural disaster. An all-day radio marathon hit the airwaves the next morning; the mayor banned music for two days. The local colmados , once thriving hotbeds for merengue and socializing, stood deathly silent as crowds gathered around the tin-roofed shops to mourn – the custom here when someone dies. The flags flew at half mast; the beaches were abandoned.

Cabrera lies on the fringes of poverty along the country's north coast. Many children walk barefoot in the town, and medical care is non-existent in the nearby mountain villages. Tim Moller, who runs Hotel La Catalina, and his daughter Ashleigh, 26, operate a non-profit foundation which is now working to rebuild a school for the forgotten mountain children, among them Haitians.


Photo: Stephen Smith

For bookings to the Hotel La Catalina contact:
Voyages Catalina Inc. tel: 514-388-0133 or 1-888-388-0133
Hotel La Catalina $98 for bed and breakfast. Room prices are per night based on double occupancy in $USD Children 4 and under with adult are free

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