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Local group still seeking help for Haiti two years after earthquake

Build Haiti Foundation hosting fundraiser Saturday in Columbia

By David Greisman, dgreisman@tribune.com

5:41 PM EST, January 10, 2012

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The catastrophe in Haiti struck quickly in January 2010.

The consequences have gone on for much longer. A group in Howard County is seeking to make sure that the country is not forgotten.

More than two years after a massive 7.0 earthquake left hundreds of thousands dead and much of the island nation in rubble and desperation, the Build Haiti Foundation will host Remember Haiti, an event with music, dance and art that organizers hope will not only raise money for recovery efforts, but will remind people of why their help is still needed.

"Right now, Haiti is still in the dark ages," said Jean-Robert Anantua, president of the Columbia-based foundation. "What we're trying to do is raise awareness, so we can continue to work to make sure Haiti comes out of the situation it's in right now. If we forget about Haiti, it will really take a long, long time — if ever."

The fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 14, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia. Tickets are $50, $25 for children under the age of 12.

Foundation board member David Weeks said that as time passes and other disasters catch the world's attention, Haiti has been pushed out of people's minds.

"You can say the same about Hurricane Katrina," he said. "There's still so much to be done in New Orleans. As individuals who care about the condition of the world, you can't do everything, but you can influence the area you dedicate yourself to. Through that sustained effort, you can make a difference over the course of time."

A Jan. 10 report in The Kansas City Star noted that half of the funds that countries around the world pledged to send to Haiti was never sent, and half of what donors from the United States contributed has not yet been used.

"There's extreme poverty there," Weeks said. "There's probably corruption that still exists as far as getting funds or things to people in need. The infrastructure needs a lot of attention, roads and health care in particular."

Meanwhile, Anantua said his organization is involved in several efforts, including building and supporting a clinic in the northern part of the country and providing schools with basic materials.

Locally, interest in helping Haiti appeared to have waned, judged by the turnout at last year's Hand to Hand for Haiti event at Centennial Park, in Ellicott City.

The 2010 event attracted about 1,000 people and raised about $13,000, organizers said. Organizers had hoped the 2011 fundraiser would attract 4,000 people and raise $80,000.

Instead, last year's event attracted from 600 to 1,000 people and actually lost money, according to Larry Jackson of the Ellicott City Rotary Club, which sponsored the event. The club will not hold Hand to Hand for Haiti this year but will still seek to support the Build Haiti Foundation, he said.

Anantua urged help for a country that had troops fighting alongside colonial soldiers in Savannah, Ga., during the Revolutionary War and has had ties with the United States since.

"When you have a friend in trouble, I believe that everyone needs to commit and support that friend," he said.

The fundraiser isn't just about contributing to the recovery efforts, though, Anantua said. He also wants people to learn more about Haitian culture.

"Sometimes we think we're going in to help somebody in distress, and then in the process we find ourselves learning so much that enriches our own lives. Sometimes we go in to give, when in fact we get," he said. "That is exactly the kind of opportunity that Haiti presents to anyone who would like to be involved."