When I succumb to the late-winter blues, I think about people like 67-year-old Remercier Gillout. Her 21-year-old son, Christian, died in the magnitude 7 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January. "My mind comes and goes with grief," she says. "Sometimes I eat, and sometimes I cannot eat. My health is not good. And I don't have anyone to support me."
Gillout is just one of an estimated 200,000 older survivors who are grappling with catastrophic conditions in Haiti, from rat-infested camps to crumpled nursing homes lacking food or water. Many of you have pitched in from afar: in the immediate aftermath of the quake, AARP members and other caring individuals donated nearly $1 million to the Haiti Relief Fund through the AARP Foundation (which contributed another $500,000) and HelpAge USA, the only global relief agency to focus specifically on the needs of older people. Your money is being used for emergency medical attention, food, shelter, and supplies. Help-Age has also signed a memorandum of understanding to manage the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home—to do everything from caregiving to sanitation to long-term planning. Observes Marilyn Grist, executive director of HelpAge: "The residents are currently living in what looks like a tent city for older people."
Families are suffering as well. Grandparents in Haiti play a big role in raising children, a job that's becoming more daunting with the loss of businesses and jobs. "My house was destroyed," says Port-au-Prince resident Elmont Lucie, 69. "How am I going to take care of my grandchild?" Says Grist: "Many grandparents were taking care of AIDS orphans before January 12. They have even more responsibilities now."
Rebuilding will be an enormous challenge, but, Grist says, "the amazing story is the resilience of these older people. Their resolve is, 'I'm here, I'm working, and I'm proud.' " To support these determined older Haitians, please call 877-742-4848, or click on the link above to make a donation. Your prayers will help. And with springtime comes hope.
Nancy Perry Graham
Editor, AARP The Magazine
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049