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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

LI radio station helps keep Haitian community informed

The calls have been streaming into Radio Éclair in West Hempstead, as many as 42 in 20 minutes. They are from Haitians in the tri-state region, eager for news about their families and their native land.

Thursday, one caller reported that five members of a single family had been killed. But most were searching for something, anything that might hint at the fate of their loved ones.

"We give them information," said Acelus Etienne, the station's founder and president, who is also a journalist and minister. "We give them hope."

In the broadcast booth, a parade of disturbing images from Port-au-Prince moved across a television screen near Etienne as "How Great Thou Art" streamed through the station's speakers in French.

The combination was potent.

All at once, the destruction of the city on the small screen didn't seem an ending so much as a chance at a new beginning. And the sudden, brutal devastation of an island nation seemed to be not so much of a low but an inspired challenge to dig deep and reach high.

It was as if another power was at work. Which is just what Radio Éclair sets out to remind its Haitian audience, even at so fragile and difficult a time.

In Haitian culture, there is no line between faith and life. And Radio Éclair, a Christian station that began broadcasting in 1988, makes the most of that fact. Since Tuesday, the station, which provides a mix of music, ministry and news, has increased its already aggressive coverage of Haiti and made subtle changes in its play list.

"The music is comforting," said Etienne's son, James. "More uplifting, more hopeful. We want to lift the people up."

Thursday, Etienne and two other ministers - Yvan Dalzon, pastor of Parusia Baptist Church in Haiti, and Theoma Tilus, pastor of Eglise Baptist de Siloe Church in Central Islip - sat together in the studio to do just that.

They took telephone calls.

During one hour, callers named their relatives - some of them in Delmas, Bizoton and Carrefour Feuilles - and the ministers prayed for them. But the ministers drove home a message for listeners, too:

"During this time, you don't have to be scared; God is our refuge and our strength," Etienne said. "Rich or poor, intellectual or not intellectual, we still need each other in the crossroads of life."

Later, the three took more calls, this time from listeners who had heard back from their families. As the afternoon wore on, bits and pieces of precious information poured in from callers who were connecting with family across the island, from places news reporters have yet to reach.

From Croix des Bouquets: One caller's child is "good and safe."

From Arcahaie: "The saint in the church fell, but the church is still standing. There are some deaths, but there are many still alive."

From Marothere: "They are good, they have access to clean water."

It all comes together in a web, where one call to one relative in one part of Haiti can bring comfort and bolster the hope of others waiting to reach relatives in the same region.

"That is our goal and we can do it like no one else can," said Etienne, who has received word that his family, who live on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, are safe.

Still, Etienne waits for word from a reporter who works with a sister station in Haiti. The two had talked after the first tremor. Tilus, meanwhile, waits for word of his brother, Nicanor, in Delmas. And Dalzan waits for his wife, Roseire, and three children, Vanessa, 13, Samuel, 5, and Marvin, 4, in Port-au-Prince.

Like Radio Éclair - which Etienne started in 1988 and means "flash of lightning" in French - all three intend to keep praying, hoping and working to keep Haitians in the United States connected to Haiti.

"It is in God's hands," Etienne said. And then he paraphrased a passage from Job. "God may send suffering," he said, "but he returns gifts, a thousandfold."

>>PHOTOS: Frantic rescue effort in Haiti | Deadliest recent earthquakes

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>> VIDEOS: Latest videos from Haiti and on LI

>> MORE: Upload photos of loved ones missing in Haiti | Read more about LIers grieving and LI's efforts to help | Latest news from Haiti | Haiti's road to chaos: 2006 Newsday series

 


HOW TO HELP

* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.

* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.

* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The Red Cross has also set up a Web site to help family members find and contact relatives.

* You can also go online to organizations such as the Red Cross and MercyCorps to make a contribution to the disaster relief efforts.

The FBI warned Internet users to be wary of e-mail messages seeking donations in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to known organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited e-mails, officials said.

Other Web sites accepting donations include:

-Haitian Health Foundation
-Hope for Haiti
-UNICEF
-International Medical Corps
-Beyond Borders
-AmeriCares

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