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Ottawa residents worry about family and friends in Haiti

Mike Desir is doing his best to stay focused on his students, but the Ottawa-based mixed martial arts coach is constantly worrying about loved ones in Haiti.

“I grew up in Haiti, raised there until 19 years old in Port-au-Prince,” said Desir.

Between sessions, he’s in constant contact with childhood friend Monique Vilaire. She and her son live in Haiti and have been forced to flee their home amid the violence. They have no way to get to her husband Roodmy, who currently lives is in Gatineau.

“Every day, they wake up, they don’t know what the day will bring,” said Desir. “Some of them have had to move from where they were because it was a dangerous area, moving somewhere else that seems ‘safer’.”

The situation in Haiti has been volatile for years. The Haitian prime minister agreed Tuesday to resign under fierce pressure. Gangs are running rampant throughout the country — torching police stations, forcing the closure of airports and freeing thousands of inmates from prison. There are mounting fears of a civil war, with gang members vastly outnumbering police. There are nearly 3,000 Canadians trapped in the country. The government is telling them to shelter in place.

The country is under a state of emergency as the main port in Port-au-Prince remains closed, stranding dozens of containers with critical supplies such as food and health supplies.

“We have no power to do anything for out family members,” said Ketcia Peters, a Haiti community leader in Ottawa. She and several others are urging the government to do what it can to help stabilize the country and provide humanitarian aid. “The airport is currently blocked by gangs, even sending money is dangerous we are putting their lives at risk. For them to leave their home to get the money, it’s a risk to get attacked.”

Desir says he tries to remain positive, wearing the Haitian coat of arms on his t-shirt as a show of solidarity.

“I think it fits with what we are trying to do,” he said. “We are here for our nation, we are Haitians and we need to stick together.”

Meanwhile, community leaders in the capital say they’re organizing a gathering that will offer peer support for those dealing the stress and trauma in these difficult times. 

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