Haiti

Dominican pride flies high in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Frances Martinez leads the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance at Lynn City Hall.

LYNN — The Dominican Republic’s Independence Day isn’t until Monday, but that didn’t stop an early celebration in the city Friday.

More than 100 people, including Dominican natives, their families and officials packed the City Hall lobby to hear rousing speeches, enjoy dances by the Cultura Latina Dance Academy and see the raising of the Latin American country’s red, white and blue flag on City Hall Square.

Perhaps the biggest applause was reserved for Maria Carrasco, a member of the School Committee who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 1982. She was introduced by Frances Martinez, president and CEO of the North Shore Latino Business Association, as “one of our own.”

“This means so much to us because we are free, we can rise and we are proud,” Carrasco said. ”We were able to fight for what we believe, but at the same time we are united, we don’t look to to the past, we just look ahead.”

On Feb. 27, 1844, independence was declared from Haiti, the culmination of a movement led by Juan Pablo Duarte, then in exile, the hero of Dominican independence, and one of its founding fathers, according to welcome-dominican-republic.com.

Martinez, who is also a member of the Dominican Flag Committee, said while she was born in the U.S., she is proud of her parents’ country and culture.   

“This celebration is very important to us,” she said. “As a member of the first generation in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, I want my children and my grandchildren to understand that just because we are here in the U.S. we cannot forget our backgrounds.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy spoke to the crowd in Spanish, which brought cheers.

“I welcome everyone and thank you for attending the flag raising ceremony,” she said. “I wish you a happy Independence Day. Long live the Dominican Republic.”

State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) hailed the crowd and congratulated them.

“The Dominican community is a strong and vibrant part of the city of Lynn,” he said. “I’m glad to be here with all of you to celebrate your Independence Day.”  

Jose Manuel Encarnacion capped off the hour-long event when he said “Keep that fire in your heart for Dominican independence.”

Former Lynn Item building up for auction


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

North Shore lends a hand to Haiti

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Hurricane Matthew left destruction in it’s path last month, taking the lives of nearly 1,000 people and leveling most of the southern portion of Haiti.

Two North Shore organizations have stepped up to raise money to support the Haitian people.

On Saturday, Marblehead’s Clifton Lutheran Church hopes to match the $2,000 they raised from local banks to support the Mission of Hope, the Haiti-based nonprofit whose mission is to create jobs and provide healthcare to remote regions of the impoverished island in the Caribbean.

“Haiti is a muddy mess and our efforts are aimed at helping to feed, clothe and house people,” said Clifton Pastor James Bixby. “Our goal is to get things in place so that the next time there’s a crisis, the nation will be prepared.”

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There’s no charge for the event that starts at 4:30 p.m. But Bixby said he will ask people to be generous when they write a check at the end of the evening.

On Saturday, Nov. 26, Lynn’s Senior Action Center, formerly known as the Haitian Elders Action League, will hold its annual fundraising gala at the Franco-American War Veterans hall.

Proceeds from the event, which is expected to raise about $8,000, will to used support its programs for elders and raise money to replace a school in Les Cayes that was leveled by the hurricane.

“More than 600 students have no place for learning, so we hope this money will start the effort to rebuild,” said William Joseph, owner of Globo Computer Learning Center in Lynn and a self-described community activist.

“It won’t be enough to complete the job, but enough to build some classrooms and get students back to school.”

Joseph, 65, who emigrated from Haiti in the 1980s, has three  sisters who live in Haiti. While they are safe, the home where Joseph’s family was raised in Baraderes was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.

“Thank God my sisters moved from that house long before the hurricane,” he said.  

This is not the first time the senior center has helped Haiti recover from a natural disaster.

After the 2010 earthquake, they collected 250,000 items including food, water, clothing and medical supplies in cooperation with the city of Lynn.

“The whole community responded,” Joseph said. “I flew to Haiti and stayed for a month to distribute the goods.”

Haiti can use the support. The United Nations has raised only a portion of the $120 million needed to cope with the devastation.

Relief workers say they are still having a tough time reaching the hardest-hit areas, where power is still out and food and water remain scarce.

“We are doing what we can to help,” Joseph said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Two Worlds come together at Classical

From left, Jessica Panmo, Jemima Imul Rodriguez, Gehisha Caraballo, Henry Chavez Ramirez, Fereshtah Tajiki, Yosra Girdia, Lorvendy Dabel, Shimendi Tewolde, Noor Muhammad at the Living in Two Worlds Film Festival 2016 at Lynn Classical High School.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN Yosra Girdia endured horror in Libya at the hands of ISIS before making her way to the United States.

She is one of 10 students who shared their stories as part of Lynn Classical’s Living in Two Worlds Film Festival. The three minute films were shown last week for 700 people.

The program, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation, examines the challenges and rewards of life as bicultural teens. The high school is seeking a new donor for the upcoming year.

Girdia, 18, a junior at Lynn Classical High School, said she lived in her native land when the Islamic State terrorist organization invaded and killed people. The group kidnapped her brother and his best friend about five years ago. As a warning to her brother that he was next, ISIS returned him alive in a box with the body of his murdered best friend.

She said ISIS also kidnapped her female cousin and tried to rape her, but luckily she escaped.

After arriving in America, her brother got help for his post traumatic stress disorder and is recovering. Girdia said she is happy now and appreciates the opportunity to live in a free country. In Libya, she wasn’t allowed to attend school.

“I feel like I was given a second chance,” Girdia said.

Alexis Kopoulos, coordinator for the Living in Two Worlds program, said the stories gave students a new perspective.

“I think they were really unaware of some of the challenges their classmates went through,” Kopoulos said.

Fereshtah Tajiki, 18, a junior, said her parents are from Afghanistan but she is from Iran. Her struggles started after her father died and no one was left to take care of her family. After he died, her family registered for resettlement. She went briefly to Europe two years ago, before settling in the U.S.

When Tajiki was in Iran, refugees were only allowed certain jobs. Now in Lynn, she has the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“People who are here should know how much education is worth,” Tajiki said. “They should take advantage. The reason I came here was for education.”

Lorvendy Dabel, a 16-year-old junior, is from Haiti. His father and two siblings came to the U.S. first, but he, his mother and younger brother had to stay behind for 10 years. In Haiti, school is not free. As a result, his father had to pay for their education.

In Haiti, Dabel said violence and gun shootings are common, and when they happen, people have to hide inside the house. He made his way to the states in 2013.

Norma Esteban, 20, a junior from Guatemala, said her parents died when she was young. Her mother took her own life when Esteban was 6 and her father died from diabetes in 2009.

When she was just 12, Esteban was taking care of her siblings alone. Her older sister helped before making her way to the U.S. She had to quit school in sixth grade because she couldn’t afford it. She worked for farmers who paid her less because she wasn’t educated.

Today, she lives with her older sister after leaving Guatemala in 2013. She continues to work 40 hours a week while attending school, but is thankful for the free education.

“I feel happy now,” Esteban said.

Jemima Imul Rodriguez, 19, a senior, is from Guatemala and sought to escape the violence. In her native country, she said gangs sometimes kill people for no reason. If someone is walking on the streets with a phone and doesn’t want to give it up, the gangs will kill for it. She arrived at her new home in 2013.

“I feel like there’s more freedom and I’m not afraid to walk in the streets,” Rodriguez said.

Henry Chavez-Ramirez, 18, a sophomore, came to America in 2013, and went to live with his brother. His parents remain in Guatemala and he can call his mother every two weeks. He misses his family, but said things are better since he learned English.

Eighteen-year-old sophomore Noor Muhammad, said he was considered a refugee in Malaysia, despite being born there, and couldn’t attend school. His parents are from Myanmar. He arrived in the U.S. in 2014 with his family and struggled with the language at first, but is now happy.

Shimendi Tewolde, 19, a junior, is from Eritrea. He came to the U.S. by himself and lives with a foster mother. He doesn’t think his family will join him. When he made the journey, he left in the middle of the night and didn’t say goodbye to his mother. He has contact with her sometimes and is grateful for the free education.

Gehisha Caraballo, a senior, is from Puerto Rico. She and her mother came to the U.S. to be by her grandmother’s side as she was dying of cancer.

Jessica Panmo, a sophomore, is originally from Cameroon. In her video, she talks about the corruption and how her father came to the U.S. first to be able to afford to have the rest of the family join him.

Jaclyn Fisher, program coordinator, said it gives her goosebumps to see the films on the big screen in front of an audience.

“Every year that we do it, it’s a completely moving experience,” she said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Workers have their May Day

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Protesters begin to congregate at the Corner of Greene Street and Union Street in Lynn for the International Workers May Day March.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — More than 100 protesters took to the streets of Lynn on Sunday to support worldwide International Workers May Day.

The peaceful group marched a mile from the intersection of Union and Green streets to Lynn Commons, ending with a short rally.

Jack Damas, 14, of Lynn, said while his family is from Haiti, he was born in the U.S. May Day is his first protest and he came with friends.

“I want everyone to be equal and for everyone to have fair rights,” he said.

David Gass, director of the Highlands Coalition, a group that endorsed the event, said the marchers included immigrants and-low income workers. He said the goal of the march is make people aware of the inequality and discrimination immigrants face.

Gass, 71, of Lynn, said many people in the city spend about half of their income on rent. One of the purposes of the rally was to lobby for a $15 an hour minimum wage, which, he said, would help people keep pace with the cost of living.

Angela Arce, vice-president of the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), said through an interpreter that she immigrated from Paraguay 17 years ago. The 42-year-old Salem resident said she came in search of opportunities and has two children, both U.S. citizens.

“I started a company,” she said through an interpreter. “We employ people. We’re fighting so immigrants can live and work in better conditions for just wages and so that undocumented immigrants can get drivers licenses so that everybody can drive in safety.”

Alexandra Pineros-Shields, ECCO’s executive director, said she’s from Spain, but has been in the U.S. for 47 years. The 52-year-old Salem resident said she came over when she was 4, after her parents decided to move.

Shields said ECCO, a network of congregations on the North Shore, is concerned about the rights of workers, particularly immigrants.

“All of the fights we fought for over the last century are slowly slipping away,” she said. “Our faith traditions tell us that everyone has dignity.”

Mother and daughter Mary Rosales, 50, and Tatiana Iraheta, 13, of Lynn, are facing foreclosure. Rosales is from El Salvador and came to the U.S. to escape the hardships faced during the country’s civil war. She said one of her brothers was killed. The two are working with Lynn United for Change to keep their home.

“It’s a human right to have a roof over your head,” Rosales said.

Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council and executive director of New Lynn Coalition, said support for workers is needed.

“This is a time when they’re trying to tear down the last few good jobs in America,” Crosby said. “That’s why we stopped at the Verizon offices to support their strike. We need union rights for immigrant workers.”

The local march, an annual event for about a decade, was organized by the ECCO, Lynn United for Change, Neighbor to Neighbor, New Lynn Coalition and Worker’s Center of Lynn.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Lynn civic groups come together to fight hunger

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Volunteers from the Lynn Rotary Club and St. Mary’s High School bag up 10,000 meals on Saturday morning during The second annual Stop Hunger Now event.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — The Lynn Rotary Club spent Saturday morning trying to stop hunger.

Volunteers packaged more than 10,000 meals made of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin and mineral packet. They will be distributed to developing countries, to support school feeding programs, orphanages and crisis relief.

The second annual Stop Hunger Now event at St. Mary’s High School cafeteria is a marvel as participants manage packaging stations and equipment, fill bins with raw ingredients, scoop ingredients into bags, weigh and seal them, box and stack them on pallets and load the finished products onto a truck.

More than 70 volunteers participated in the assembly line packaging system, including 40 student volunteers from St. Mary’s campus ministry. Packaging took less than two hours.

One package, or small meal, will feed a family of six, according to Ray Bastarache, Rotary president and former headmaster of St. Mary’s.

While he doesn’t know where the meals will be distributed, he was told that last year’s meals went to Nepal following the earthquake. In 2010, the meals were delivered to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake and to Japan in 2011, after the tsunami.

“What we do know is that in some developing country around the world, many needy families will have a nutritional meal,” Bastarache said.

To package the meals, Bastarache said the club raised $3,000 to purchase the ingredients. Financial support was donated by Wyoma, Lynn and Shoe City Lions, St. Pius’ Vincent  de Paul Society and the Saugus Rotary.

Bastarache said the Rotary Club plans to do the event twice a year. For the fall, he hopes to raise about $4,000, which would allow them to make 13,000 meals.

“It’s going to start a chain reaction of acts of kindness and compassion,” he said.

Steve Upton, Rotary vice-president, said the club does many events for the community, but every once in awhile, likes to do something that helps other parts of the world. He said a goal of the club is to promote a peaceful world.

“It was a fun day,” Upton said. “I’m just pleased frankly with the comradery of the variety of community groups that came together to help people they don’t know in this world. It’s just a great opportunity for service for your fellow man and having a great time in the process.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Lynnfield doctor opens eyes in Haiti

Ophthalmologist Vicki Kvedar, of Lynnfield, working with a patient in Haiti to improve their eyesight. She has recently finished her third trip to Haiti. 

BY LEIGH BLANDER

Ophthalmologist Vicki Kvedar of Lynnfield is just back from her 3rd annual medical mission to Haiti, bringing the gifts of sight, and  love to an orphanage with a special Massachusetts connection.

Dr. Kvedar visits the Be Like Brit Orphanage, founded a few years ago in memory of Britney Gengel of Holden. Gengel had traveled with her college on a humanitarian mission to Haiti and was killed in the 2010 earthquake there. Her parents built the orphanage in her honor. It is located outside of Port-au-Prince, in Grand Goave.

“The children are so fun. I love their hugs,” Dr. Kvedar said. “They are so starved for love, and they just want someone to play with them. They are adorable.” Many of the children lost their parents in the earthquake.

“It’s wonderful to watch them grow from year to year,” Dr. Kvedar said. “Whenever I arrive, they run toward me crying out, ‘Lunettes!’ which is French for glasses. I bring one thousand pairs of donated glasses each trip. Whenever a child gets a pair of glasses, they parade around the orphanage.”

During her week-long stay, Dr. Kvedar gives eye exams to all 66 children at the orphanage, in addition to another 140 adults. She frequently diagnoses cataracts and glaucoma in the adults and gives them free eye drops.

This trip, she left the orphanage to head deeper into the mountains to a remote, make-shift clinic.

“People are much worse off in the mountains,” Dr. Kvedar said. “At least four adults needed surgery to save their sight, but there was no where to do the surgery.”

Dr. Kvedar remembers one older woman who was terribly thin.

“She had glaucoma and the pressure on her eyes was so high, she felt too nauseous to eat. I didn’t have access to an operating room, but I brought her name back to a hospital. Hopefully, they’ll find her.”

Dr. Kvedar, who practices in Melrose, brings her daughter, Julie, 24, with her on these medical missions.

“My daughter and I always wanted to do a mission together, but we we could never find one that was right for us,” she said. “We waited for the right one to come along that could give us a nice bonding experience. With Be Like Brit, we got even more than that!”

Julie Kvedar, who is earning a Master of Public Health degree at Columbia, says she looks forward all year to her visits to Haiti.

“It feels amazing to be able to help such deserving people,” Julie said. “Every time I leave Haiti, I leave a piece of my heart.”

Julie says the trips have given her perspective.

“Working in Haiti has really helped shape my understanding of privilege in my own life,” she said. “Witnessing firsthand the realities of living in a resource-poor nation has made me so grateful for all that I have. I realize how blessed I am to have constant access to clean water, medical care and three meals a day.”

The Kvedars plan to return to the Be Like Brit Orphanage again next year. “It’s because of the people there,” Dr. Kvedar says. “They’re wonderful people.”

For more information about the Be Like Brit Orphanage, visit www.belikebrit.org. If you’d like to donate glasses for Dr. Kvedar’s next medical mission, contact her office at 781-662-2216.