Michigan Tech Rallies Around Haitians

Far from their devastated homeland, Haitian members of the Michigan Tech community struggled to track down family members and friends in the wake of last week’s disasterous earthquake. Here is the story of Fredline Ilorme, a graduate student in civil engineering, who writes about the longest 24 hours of her life.

“Hello Global Citizens,

“The day looked like any other day to me as I woke up and got ready, thinking about everything I needed to accomplish. I was far from thinking about my family in Haiti, how long it had been since I talked to them and the last things we said.

“However, sometime in the evening, everything changed. I had just gotten to my office when I received a call from a friend about an earthquake in Haiti. A quick Google, and I had an idea of the magnitude of the situation. My first thoughts: my family. Are they okay? Did the house fall on them?

“Quickly rushed back home and spent the entire night trying to reach any one of them by phone. To no avail. News was bad. Many of our most cherished historical buildings–the national palace, the ministries, the cathedral, some hospitals and schools–had fallen. All in thirty seconds. Did my people have time to escape? As I gathered info from my friends on Facebook and through some other friends by phone and online, things seemed dire. Some of my friends had been able to reach their families; they were okay. But still I could not reach any of mine.

“As I watched the videos, the images of the fallen structures, I thought I was losing all I have ever had: my family, my friends, my country. How could this happen? What had we done to deserve this? Weren’t the past year’s four hurricanes enough?

“My friends on Facebook, the ones who called or emailed trying to give me hope, told me to keep trying, and tomorrow I might reach them. I felt hopeless. Why hadn’t they answered till now if other people had found out about their loved ones? They must be gone as everything around them.

“I got tired of staying inside. Went for a drive, but the car could not get me to my people. Could only get me around Houghton. Wasting gas, polluting the environment, and putting myself at risk for nothing. That’s not what my parents would have wanted me to do.

“Went back home. Got some rest and continued the calls. And early the next morning, a miracle happened. I got through. I reached Jessie, a former Tech student. She was alive. Quick talk as no electricity to recharge phones, but she said she’s okay. Continued trying. I got one of my aunties for five seconds. FIVE seconds. But I heard her voice. She was alive. Could the other ones still be? Continued calling and found her again. She said everyone was fine except for two they had not heard from, but that did not mean they were not okay. Sigh of relief. This was good news. They had survived. I regained strength.

“As emails of comfort and support kept pouring in, I continued to regain more strength. I had not lost everything. The country was still worth being rebuilt, for them, with them. Now that I was stronger, I could help others. Tried to locate their loved ones for them and offered advice and comfort. During the next day, got confirmation that all of my family was okay.

“Still, not everyone was as lucky as my family. Casualties are high, and there is lots of damage. But I have hope. Hope for Haiti. Because its citizens acted bravely in the face of this terrible tragedy. Because they were there for each other, and because since everything has started, every country in the world has been with us, from the closest ones–Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, United States, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia; some further away, like France and Spain; and some even further, like China.

“But closer to me, the response has also been amazing–the number of emails and calls from students, faculty and staff at Tech and organizations like NOSOTROS [Tech’s Hispanic Student Organization] have given me hope. Rebuilding will be tough, but we will do it together, with our countrymen and our friends and partners from around the world.

“Thanks to you all, and thanks for keeping Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.”