On Jan. 13, 2010, everyone was talking about “the earthquake” at school, in Starbucks and on TV, but I didn’t know what everyone had been talking about. So when I got home from school I went to latimes.com and the first thing I saw was a headline about a massive (7.0 on the Richter scale) earthquake in Haiti.
As I read I learned that Haiti was the poorest country in the world, and probably the least prepared for such a devastating disaster. Disasters seem to always show up on the news or on the front pages of newspapers with numbers of people injured or dead, and I often read about them, and feel sorry, but soon forget about it when I get caught up in the events my everyday life. But the disaster in Haiti had a more severe effect on me because of how small and unprepared the country was for this type of disaster.
I thought of the damage a big earthquake would cause where I live, where every house and building is built to prevent damage from earthquakes. And if there were any serious damage, it would probably get fixed quickly. And then I thought about Haiti and how quickly their small wooden homes must have come down, and how panic must have spread like wildfire. I wondered if the damage that had been done could ever be repaired.
Even more heartbreaking were the photos. I saw a photo of a Haitian boy standing on top of a house. The roof was nearly collapsed, and looking at these photos of people standing in the rubble of the earthquake and holding their sick or injured loved ones close to themmade me realize how bad the suffering really was.
At the time of the earthquake, everyone was rushing to help as much as they could. TV networks, students at my school, and celebrities put together benefits and asked people to donate money to help the victims get food, water and medical help. I helped out as much as I thought I could by donating money. I sent a text that would donate $10 to Haiti and tried to spread the word about benefit concerts happening in my area. But at the same time, I felt as if throwing money at a disaster wouldn’t help very much. News anchors would say that even though there were supplies heading to Haiti, the planes couldn’t get in. There were times that I wished I could fly into Haiti and give the victims food, and tell them that everything is going to be OK. I donated as much as I could (about $50) through bake sales and benefits.
As the months rolled by, I stopped hearing the word “Haiti” as I passed by people at school. I didn’t get invites to anymore Haiti benefits and I didn’t see any stories in the paper or on the news about Haiti’s progress. By June, I admit that I had almost forgotten about the earthquake. I was so busy that I had forgotten about almost everything that wasn’t directly affecting me.
But I was reminded when I went to the Warped Tour in June. My goal was to meet the All-American Rejects, who were headlining. I waited by their merchandise booth for three hours in the burning sun, and just when my friend and I had lost hope, her eyes widened and she went speechless because lead singer Tyson Ritter was walking toward us.
He walked right by me, and I called out, “Tyson!” He stopped to talk to me. I told him that he changed my life by making me love music and he said, “Well, you can change lives too.” He handed me a flyer for his organization, Don’t Hate On Haiti. We continued to talk for a couple minutes before people started to swarm to take pictures with him and get his autograph.
Then Tyson started talking to the crowd about Don’t Hate On Haiti. He said that the people of Haiti were 30 years away from full recovery. Then I realized, I’ll be 46 by then. Until 2040, there could still be homeless earthquake victims and people without power or clean water. I thought, if I can give just one person clean water, it’s worth it.
I bought the $30 T-shirt that Tyson was selling to raise money for the organization, got him to sign it, and took a picture with him. I thanked him for the picture and he grabbed my hand, looked me straight in the eyes, and sincerely thanked me for buying a T-shirt. “It means so much,” he said. I could see the sincerity and passion for the cause in his eyes and it inspired me to help out too.
I felt good about buying the T-shirt and donating to the cause, but I also didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I started thinking of more ways I could help, and realized that my Sweet 16 birthday party was the perfect way. I had been planning my Sweet 16 at the time and I hated the idea of everyone giving me gifts that I would never use.
So instead, I told everyone who was attending the party that instead of a gift I would rather them donate the money to Don’t Hate On Haiti. When I told my friends and family that I wanted to donate to Haiti instead of getting birthday gifts, they told me how proud they were of me and how generous they thought I was being. Then, I started doing research about the disaster so I could write a short speech for the party and spread word about how bad the disaster was. It had not even been a year since the disaster happened, which is what made it so shocking that people had pushed it aside.
When the day of the party finally arrived, about 40 people came. I had painted a cardboard box white, painted the Don’t Hate On Haiti logo on the front, and cut a hole in the top to use as a donation box. As people walked into the party, I watched them drop money into the box, and it made me smile with the thought that I could actually help the people of Haiti who need it so badly.
After the party had been going on for a couple of hours, I put on my Don’t Hate On Haiti shirt and talked to all my guests about the organization. I told them that the idea of people struggling for 30 years to get back on their feet was heartbreaking to me and I wanted to do everything I could to help.
When I tell people that Haiti is potentially 30 years away from recovery, they are just as shocked as I was when I first heard it and, hopefully, just as motivated to help. And I believe that they are because the night of my birthday party I raised $560 for Don’t Hate On Haiti. I was so excited as I counted the money and amazed at people’s generosity. That week, I sent the money in an envelope along with a page-long note explaining how I raised the money and why I decided to dedicate my Sweet 16 to Don’t Hate On Haiti.
Then, in October, I received an e-mail from one of the managers of the All-American Rejects saying, “Hi Chantelle, Tyson Ritter asked me to pass the attached video along to you. Thank you so much for your contribution to Haiti!” I clasped my hands over my mouth in shock when I watched the video of Tyson thanking me for my donation to Haiti and telling me he had written a song for me. I was so surprised and ecstatic that I nearly cried.
I plan to continue to help Haiti in every way I can, not just by raising money for the cause, but also by raising awareness of the terrible state that Haiti is still in today, with victims of the earthquake homeless, sick, and unable to get clean water, I hope that people don’t forget about the disaster that destroyed a country.