Haitians Brothers in Brooklyn Hoping to Head Home, Lend a Hand

Two Haitian brothers in Brooklyn are set on returning to Haiti and helping dig people out of the rubble. And, like everyone else they’re trying to reach members of their own family. WNYC’s Marianne McCune spent the day collecting supplies with them in the Flatbush neighborhood.

Click here for a slideshow of the Haitian brothers and images from Haiti.

CADET: Ok my name is Joseph-Pierre Cadet, nickname, Haitien.

REPORTER: That’s the French pronunciation of Haitian.

CADET: Ever since I was a little boy, everybody in my nabe in Haiti they saw how much I love my country so they give me that nickname Haitien.

REPORTER: Joseph Pierre Cadet says even as a boy, he used to bring food to his neighbors’ houses. He hasn’t lived in Haiti since he was 14--and he’s 40 now. But he wants to get back as soon as possible to try to help those neighbors again. And find his mother, whom he hasn’t heard from yet.

CADET: Me and my bro and my friend we planning to travel by Monday--we must be there by Friday.

REPORTER: The problem is, there are no flights available. So while they wait, they’re using their white construction van to drive around Brooklyn and pick up supplies to either send with an aid agency or carry themselves to Haiti. Cadet has done this before. In November, he says he sent a truck filled with supplies including portable houses. Now he says it’s stuck in Haitian customs. Cadet drives, his brother Leslie and friend Perkins Pierre are in the back. Pierre just finally got a call from his wife. She was in Haiti with their one year old son for a wedding and for 24 hours while waiting for her call, Pierre says he didn’t eat.

PIERRE: J’etais dans un coma--resucite.

REPORTER: He was in a coma, he says, until her call resuscitated him. But now instead of waiting for her here, he wants to go back to Haiti with Cadet.

CADET: Like I always tell people, we cannot depend all the time on people outsiders. What about us? We are human beings. We are people we have to stand for ourselves, 'cause if we keep depending on people we still going to be in same boat nobody going to change it for you. You have to change it. We have to do something with our life. It's a wake-up call now. It's a wake up call.

REPORTER: Cadet stops by a former client’s office, an Orthodox Jew from this neighborhood of people from everywhere. He offered to donate some supplies, but he’s not in the office right now. He promises to call Cadet when he returns. The van is surrounded by wholesale supply shops in Canarsie, so they stop to buy bottled water.

REPORTER: They pile eight cartons of bottles onto a rolling cart. And when Cadet goes to pay, the Haitian cashier tells him in Creole he’s still waiting for news of his family too.

REPORTER: The water goes into the van, next to cartons of Cup-o-Soups and juice boxes and bags of rice. They head back to a friend’s office, where they’ll store the stuff. What Cadet really wants to bring to Haiti is a portable saw--one that cuts through cement so he can help get people out from under things.

CADET: We use a diamond blade.

REPORTER: But he doesn’t have the money to buy it--not yet. When they pull up to the office, Cadet’s friend Jean-Claude Denis is waiting downstairs in the wire transfer agency. And he’s rattled. He says the last two people who came in to wire money each learned today they lost three family members.

DENIS: It’s crazy.

REPORTER: Denis has been at his computer, trying to find out about flights to Port-au-Prince. Three years ago he and Cadet started a school and youth center in the neighborhood they grew up in. They know part of the building collapsed and that one child has died. But that’s all the information they have. Denis just got his foundation--Korebel--certified as a not-for-profit so he can solicit tax free donations and be ready when the school finally calls.

REPORTER: Outside by the van, while they wait for the call from Cadet’s client, these four ask every Haitian who walks by how they’re faring. A woman stops to write down the name of a Red Cross website Denis has heard about where people can list missing family members, Familylinks.icrc.org. Marie Nelsus still hasn’t gotten through by phone.

NELSUS: I tried many times.

REPORTER: Denis receives a phone call from his niece in Boston, with good news about some cousins. And then he spots a commotion across the street.

REPORTER: Three passers-by are trying to console a woman who has just received a call. She says her sister and her sister’s three children are dead.

REPORTER: A Jamaican immigrant named Diane Joshua is taking the initiative to call the woman’s work to tell them she won’t be in. But she only has the woman’s first name.

JOSHUA: I don’t know but if you don’t see her today, you’ll know who it is--you’ll know it’s the person I’m talking about. It's horrible. It's sad.

REPORTER: Joseph-Pierre Cadet helps the woman into the front seat of the van so she can collect herself, with a little protection from the cold. A store clerk gets her some water.

The day is full of such ups and downs. By phone, late in the evening, Joseph-Pierre Cadet says he did reach his mother.

CADET: When I spoke to her, the first thing she said was, son? I’m alive I’m ok. I said Mami, I’m glad that you’re ok.

REPORTER: Now he just has to get down there to see her.