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January 20th, 2010 India Nicholas | News Stories
 

Rubble Rousing

A Northeast Portland Family With Haiti ties suspends moving plans to aid relief effort.

     
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RAPID RESPONSE: Bernard Férère talks to his brother in Texas about relief efforts in Haiti.
IMAGE: India Nicholas

The earthquake that devastated Haiti last week also rocked a local family that’s long run a popular breakfast eatery along Northeast Fremont Street.

Bagel Land’s owners, Bernard and Jackie Férère, are most often the ones who take your order and toast your Cheddar Garlic for you. After two visits, they’ll know your face. And after five, they’ll know your name, your job, and how you take your bagel. It is, without a doubt, a family business at 4118 NE Fremont St.

That family has been reeling since the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.


A TOWN IN RUINS: The 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. Image courtesy of Jackie Férère.

Bernard was born and raised in Haiti. His father died years ago, but his mother and two of his siblings are in Port-au-Prince. His mom suffered major leg injuries in the quake and his two brothers are in the capital helping the volunteer effort. Bernard met Jackie 25 years ago while she was in Port-au-Prince as a Peace Corps volunteer. They moved to Portland, bought Bagel Land in 1992, had two children, and dreamed of the day when they could move back to Haiti, already a desperately poor nation before the quake.

In 2007, Bernard and Jackie put Bagel Land, and their Northeast Portland home, on the market with plans to move their family to Haiti and devote themselves full time to helping Bernard’s Caribbean homeland.

But they put their plans on hold when the recession made their house hard to sell, and after Jackie’s father died last year.

Asked on Monday if the quake has changed their ultimate plans to move, Bernard said, “On the contrary, the earthquake makes our move even more important, more urgent. But also more delayed.”

Since 2005, the family has worked with the Haitian and Caribbean American Organization of Texas (HACAOT.org), a nonprofit co-founded by Bernard’s brother. Usually, HACAOT advocates for, and educates, the Haitian community on human rights issues like immigration, housing and labor laws. But now the small team of volunteers is dedicated solely to getting people out of Port-au-Prince.

“HACAOT’s immediate response was to get people north,” Bernard says, “where the roads are better, where there is space to put people. Right now, with hundreds of thousands of bodies to bury, there is nowhere to put the injured, the diseased, in Port-au-Prince.”

And that immediate response is all that Bernard can focus on.

“There is no big picture right now,” he says. “We must deal with the earthquake day to day. Like, who can we dig out of the rubble today? We are still at that most basic point. My two cousins in Haiti are doctors, but their skills are not being used, because all they can focus on now is digging their sister, their friends, out of the piles of rubble.”

After the quake, a donation box for HACAOT replaced Bagel Land’s tip jar. And Bernard says the Portland community has responded with almost $2,000 as of Jan. 18.

“Right now, here, we can only focus on raising funds,” Bernard says. “HACAOT has already recruited a team of volunteers that will be in Haiti rebuilding for the next three years.

“So, we say we can’t have a big picture, to focus on the day-to-day, the alive and injured, then burying the dead, then dealing with disease, with looting,” he says. “But we must also say, ‘OK, how can we rebuild this place for the future generations? How can we make it safe long-term?’”


To read more about how to help Haiti, go here. To keep up with local Haiti events on the Web, go to wweek.com/haitirelief.
 
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