By: Sarah McWilliams
When you’re watching the upcoming New York Marathon, in which more than 40,000 runners are expected to participate, you probably won’t notice five runners, three men and two women, suited up in Armani gear and New Balance shoes. From a distance, they’ll look like most everyone else.
But they’re not like everyone else.
Their names are Carline Lamour, Bertine Lainé, Jean Macksony, Astrel Clovis and Pétrus Césarion. They come from Haiti, and they’ll be running for the J/P Haiti Relief Organization, a foundation initiated shortly after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed some 300,000 people and displaced two million more from their homes.
Founded by Bosnian philanthropist Sanela Jenkins and academy award winner Sean Penn, J/P HRO is bringing these runners to New York as a symbolic gesture of the energy, work and fundraising that is happening every day in the ongoing struggle to rebuild Haiti. In other words, this effort is not a sprint. While many people donated time and money to the Haitian community in the wake of the tragedy, J/P HRO, which sprung into action as part of the emergency relief aid but has largely graduated to long-term restoration work, continues to be invested for the long haul.
“Although we will always have an emergency response component, because that’s how [the organization] was born, the work now is more development work,” said executive director Ron Baldwin. “Building housing. Retrofitting housing. Building clinics. It’s more of a long-term development organization now.”
What makes the 2010 earthquake even more devastating to a tiny country like Haiti, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, is the lacking economical support necessary to rebuild quickly. Compare that to a country like Japan, which has been hit with equally ravaging natural disasters but is economically able to fund its own relief organizations, and you can see that the challenge of restoring Haiti, in many ways, has only just begun.
Haiti is an hour and a half from Miami. It’s one of our closest neighbors and it’s a country that has been ravaged by natural disasters and invasion and dictators and all kinds of problems,” Baldwin said. “The earthquake killed 300,000 people in 30 seconds, and made two million people homeless. The earthquake in Japan and other earthquakes, these are terrible events, but nothing on the scale of what happened in Haiti. [Haiti] doesn’t have the economy to rebuild immediately.”
Along with development work, J/P HRO takes the initiative to empower the people of Haiti. Although it is an American non-profit organization, of the over 300 employees, 95 percent are Haitian, including the country director.
Part of that empowerment comes from projects like The Long Run for Haiti. This concept came from an Associated Press story about a 42-year-old Haitian mechanic, the aforementioned Astrid Clovis, who self-trained to run marathons. When J/P HRO was approached about putting together a team for New York Marathon, remembering Clovis, Baldwin and Penn decided to enter an all-Haitian team composed of the top-five finishers at the June 9th Half Marathon for Peace in Haiti’s Port au Prince.
“For anything really meaningful to happen to this economy, to this country, it requires long-term commitment, so the symbolism is good,” Baldwin said. “These runners, these are people with very little money, very little support, no formal running training, and [they’ve all] made a personal commitment to do this. To represent the strength of their country, and the perseverance of their country, that’s really what it’s about.”
Compliments of donations from Roberto Armani, a long-time supporter of the organization, New Balance, the Morgan’s Hotel group and local contributions, the five runners will experience their first time outside of Haiti (which may prove a little shocking considering the chilly temperatures on the East Coast in November), and will be competing against some of the top runners in the world.
For us, to give an opportunity to people who would not otherwise have this opportunity, to go to New York City to race in a legitimate national event, to compete at the highest level, that’s exciting for us to give them this opportunity and it’s exciting for them,” Baldwin said. “People in Haiti are proud and excited about it, so we feel really good.”
To donate to the Long Run for Haiti: http://www.crowdrise.com/thelongrunforhaiti
For more information on J/P HRO: http://jphro.org/
For more information regarding the New York City Marathon: http://www.ingnycmarathon.org/