DeCock

Haiti's plight shared

Staff WriterJanuary 19, 2010 

After competing for Haiti in the 2000 Olympics, Nadine Faustin-Parker toured the stately presidential palace in Port-au-Prince as a guest of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For the past week, she has seen that palace on television again and again - in ruins, its immaculate white dome completely flattened.

For Faustin-Parker, the University of North Carolina's director of track and field operations, that shocking image is impossible to reconcile with that fond memory, driving home the devastation inflicted by the earthquake that struck Haiti last Tuesday. A week later, it's still nearly impossible to comprehend.

"It appeared to be so sound," Faustin-Parker said Monday. "This was the place of refuge in such a horrific situation, you would think. To see it crumbled, it leaves you speechless."

Born in Belgium to Haitian parents and raised in the United States, Faustin-Parker learned quickly the morning after the earthquake that her immediate family was accounted for, although her father is still trying to track down a few cousins. So was the family of her husband, Anthony Parker, a UNC assistant track coach.

Not everyone in Haiti's track and field community in the Triangle has been as fortunate. St. Augustine's sprinter Barbara Pierre, a member of the Haitian Olympic team, has been unable to contact her grandmother in Haiti, a school spokesman said.

Faustin-Parker, a three-time Olympian and the Haitian record-holder in the 100 meters and 100-meter hurdles, is Haiti's athlete representative to track and field's international governing body.

Parker, meanwhile, served as the head coach of the Haitian track team at the 2009 World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games.

The damage done to their homeland remains difficult to comprehend, let alone understand. At this point, all they can do is watch, and pray, and hope.

"I actually keep the TV on all the time, on CNN," Faustin-Parker said. "I'm always trying to stay in the know."

Authorities estimate 200,000 people have died since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, with 250,000 people injured and 1.5 million homeless in what was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Buildings throughout the country collapsed, and aftershocks continue to threaten those still standing.

Faustin-Parker's mother is one of nine children, her father one of seven, and many of their siblings remain in Haiti. The neighborhood where many of her family members live hasn't been on TV, but it suffered no less than anywhere else.

"Their living arrangements are not the best, but we have no complaints," Faustin-Parker said. "I heard a story from my mom that my aunt got some courage and actually tried to go back into the house and bathe. As soon as she was getting ready to go in, she started feeling tremors and ran back out. There's a lot of constant worry. We just have to keep praying."

Faustin-Parker's uncle, a doctor, has traveled to Haiti and is working out of the U.S. Embassy.

Faustin-Parker hopes to travel there with her father next month, to deliver the clothing and supplies she is collecting in Chapel Hill and he is collecting in New York, but it's far too early right now. There's nowhere for them to go, nowhere for them to stay.

Until Haiti is ready for her help, all she can do is watch and wait - and remind others that Haiti not only needs them now but will need them long into the future.

"Even though there are a lot of charities, a lot of things going on now, we're going to be rebuilding Haiti for years," Faustin-Parker said. "Please don't forget."

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

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