As the horrifying images are transmitted home from his native Haiti, a piece of Samuel Dalembert’s heart breaks. The people of Haiti are resilient, he says. But even the most optimistic part of his soul, beneath the deep voice and accent, can’t help but wonder how much one country can take.
A native of Port-au-Prince, which has been leveled by a massive earthquake that has relief officials fearing more than 100,000 dead, Dalembert spent much of his time Wednesday waiting for his cell phone to ring. It does, but none of the calls originate from his impoverished homeland.
“I am just waiting,” the Philadelphia 76ers center said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Just waiting.”
Five hours after the magnitude 7.0 quake hit Tuesday, Dalembert received word from his aunt. Good news; bittersweet and yet blissfully good news. His father, 16-year-old sister, and 15-year-old brother had survived the quake. His father, a government worker there, had emailed Dalembert's aunt to say that he and his children had survived.
But all Dalembert can do is wait helplessly for word from the families and friends he grew up with. All he can do is raise awareness through the Samuel Dalembert Foundation and let people know they can donate to relief efforts through his site and through UNICEF. With Olden Polynice, Dalembert is believed to be only the second player born in Haiti to play in the NBA.
“They can contribute to whatever charity they feel comfortable, and most importantly, keep everybody in your prayers,” Dalembert said. “Hopefully, we can do something.”
Aside from those killed or trapped in the disaster, the next challenge is the massive humanitarian crisis that looms as relief organizations and world governments try to get food, water, and medical supplies to the impoverished country. This after a series of hurricanes and storms have repeatedly devastated Haiti in recent years, leaving a country where more than half the citizens live in abject poverty reeling even more.
“They have too much resilience sometimes,” Dalembert said. “It can be our downfall. We’re a lovable people. We always make fun of bad situations, we live through tough times and we always have hope that we get out of it. That’s the kind of people we are. We fought our independence for over 200 years. We’re hard-working people, too, but there’s no opportunity for us to move forward. We make the best of things.”
Now, Haiti must try to endure what officials are calling the strongest earthquake to hit the region in 200 years. The facts about Haiti’s cruel fate can be found right there on Dalembert’s web site: Approximately 80 percent of Haitians are unemployed, there is one hospital for every 100,000 people, and about 280,000 people there are living with HIV/AIDS.
Now this crisis surely will eclipse the country’s already tragic record of natural disasters that includes Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 (about 3,000 dead), Hurricane Gordon in 1994 (more than 1,000 dead), and Hurricane Flora in 1963 (more than 8,000 dead).
“It’s just chaotic over there,” Dalembert said. “I can’t imagine what the people are going through. I can’t imagine that.”