By Derek Spellman
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Music flowing in the background, Samuel Zephir flips through an album of photos from his native Haiti.
The album belongs to Michelle Chacon, a Joplin nurse who spent eight days in March in the earthquake-ravaged country. Chacon went to Haiti as part of a relief effort with Project Medishare, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides health care and development services to the country.
“I’m definitely going back,” Chacon said Friday. “I’ve got kids and family here, but that’s my second family.”
Chacon and Zephir were among those on hand Friday for Hope for Haiti Day, an event organized by students at Missouri Southern State University to benefit Joplin Helps Haiti. The latter group is helping to provide on-the-ground shelter, medical treatment and agricultural training to Haitians.
Zephir sees the whole thing — people like Chacon, the photos, the Hope for Haiti event — as part of a broader effort to keep a light of reminder burning: The media coverage might have evaporated, but not the need in Haiti. The work of rebuilding and healing is going to go on for a while.
“Some people in Haiti are still really in need,” Zephir said.
Friday’s “Hope for Haiti” doubled as fundraiser and cultural experience. One of the architects of the event, Heather McJunkins, a nontraditional student at Missouri Southern, said it was partially the outgrowth of a class project that requires students to help others.
“They are the ones that needed the most help,” McJunkins said. “The poorest person here is rich compared to the poorest person in Haiti.”
Still, McJunkins saw Hope for Haiti as a way to introduce visitors to the Haitian culture in addition to helping to rebuild the earthquake-torn country. Art displays, along with photographs, were arrayed on tables outside the Lion’s Den at Missouri Southern. Visitors were treated to a traditional Haitian meal and music.
Yet the event also drew local residents who have helped — and continue to help — the Haitian people.
Janet Montgomery, who along with husband Bill, of Stark City, Mo., have been helping provide medical, shelter and food assistance to the Haiti people through a local mission called “Just Mercy.” The mission is leasing an unfinished house in Haiti to serve as a base of operations for relief efforts that include organizing mobile medical units and trying to supply impoverished farmers with seeds for crops.
Janet Montgomery has already been to Haiti once and will be returning. Her husband and son are still down there.
“Every day there is something new,” she said of needs in the country that was hit by the quake Jan. 12.
‘Homes for Haiti’
Len Clevenger, of Joplin Helps Haiti, on Friday spoke of raising money locally to help with a new initiative called “Homes for Haiti.” That effort, spearheaded by Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Okla., asks people to sponsor a relief home.
Clevenger said a home can be built for several families for $2,275 through “Homes for Haiti.”
He said he hopes to ask families from this area to participate.
“We can buy a home instead of doing Christmas this year,” he said.
Chacon, the nurse, said she thought “everybody should be able to spend a week” in Haiti so they can see what the country faces and appreciate what people in the United States have.
“We take way too much for granted,” she said after reflecting on her trip, where she saw people living in tents with hurricane season drawing near and rubble-strewn streets.
She voiced fears that the decline in media coverage would push Haiti “out of sight, out of mind.” She pointed out that the country had 50 hospitals destroyed in the quake.
“They need a lot of help,” she said.
Zephir, the 26-year-old Port-au-Prince resident who has been studying at Missouri Southern for more than a year now, said he thinks the “people who went” to Haiti can keep the rebuilding effort in the public eye by talking about what they have seen.
Zephir, an accounting major, said he is to graduate from Missouri Southern in December.
He said he will return to Haiti.