Two Islands, One World

Here on this Island so often derided as home to the elite, many residents have long devoted energy and charity to help the people of Haiti, an island country so often noted for the being the poorest in the hemisphere.

The personal bonds between the two Islands have never been more wrenching than since an earthquake last week left Haiti’s capital in ruins. Breaths of hope and of tragedy continue to come out of the rubble there, and for many Vineyard friends this is as close as breath, not some abstract event saturating cable television news. Asked how she was holding up, the founder of Martha’s Vineyard Fish Farm for Haiti, Margaret Pénicuald, replied only: “It is difficult to think about anything else.”

More than a week later, the fish farm’s Web site is lined with two columns. In the column on the left is the happy news that all the cooperative workers of the affiliated charity, PeaceQuilts, have been accounted for, alive. Like the fish farm, the quilting project was organized by Vineyarders to help Haitians acquire skills that will sustain their families and improve their opportunities. In the column on the right is a photograph of an ebullient man playing guitar, and another of a smiling man carrying fruit; beneath both images of Sr. Thonie and Richard Charles are the words “rest in peace.” Richard was the Vineyarders’ faithful driver in Haiti.

“Richard died trying to save his children from his home. His two children perished with him. Only his wife was outside when their home collapsed,” Mrs. Pénicauld writes. In one of the Vineyard-supported schools, as many as 10 children living with the nuns there died, as well as one novice. In another, “All the buildings in the compound . . . have either collapsed or are too perilous to live in . . . one thousand girls attended classes in this school.” The quake came at nearly five o’clock in the evening, outside school hours, a small blessing.

Now those girls are among those Haitians in desperate need. The fish farm has set up its own emergency relief fund, and donations can be safely made through its Web site ( Islanders also are buying up copies of the book produced by their neighbors here about PeaceQuilts, at shops in Vineyard Haven, knowing all the money goes to Haitians involved in this optimistic cooperative. Three days after the quake hit, PeaceQuilts was able to get emergency funds to its partners in Lilavois.

Edgartown artist Jeanne Staples wrote this week to PeaceQuilts supporters: “Your gifts were used to purchase clean water and food for members of our quilting cooperatives, their families, the staff of two of the training schools we work with, as well as Haitians living near the schools.

“Prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s infrastructure for distributing food and providing water was limited. The earthquake and aftershocks have destroyed that vital infrastructure. International aid is arriving in Port-au-Prince, but the devastation and lack of security have made it difficult to distribute aid. It is extremely difficult to predict when international aid will reach villages outside of Port-au-Prince, like Lilavois. Your support is being used to provide immediate relief to Haitians who cannot get assistance from the international aid stations. Your support was and remains critical to their survival, providing for their basic needs.”

Elsewhere in Vineyard Haven, shopkeepers, hoteliers and others have quickly assembled a townwide fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders tomorrow. EduComp and Midnight Farm are giving ten per cent of the day’s takings; in the Mansion House there will be a silent auction and in its restaurant, Zephrus, food served to eat in or take out will benefit those so hungry and thirsty in Haiti, via Doctors Without Borders.

High school students are collecting money and organizing a dinner and a benefit show. At a free Shakespeare performance, money donated went to Haiti; at the Federated Church in Edgartown and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Oak Bluffs, and no doubt many other churches, special collections were taken to offer what monetary relief we can. An all-Island ecumenical church service will be held at the Whaling Church in Edgartown on Thursday evening to pray for victims of this disaster in a place already so fragile.

However you can, keep giving.