Standing in a circle of Lions Club volunteers outside a hotel near the Dominican Republic's border with Haiti, Al Brandel and Maureen Murphy held out tokens of support to their Haitian counterparts and wept.
The gesture was ceremonial but also a practical one. They placed reflective vests on the shoulders of 11 Haitian Lions Club members, inducting them into an international response committee and marking them as relief workers.
"They were overwhelmed," Brandel, of Melville, said yesterday of the trip he and his wife made last week. "Their eyes welled up. We reassured them that they're not alone [that] things are going to be OK. We're going to help you."
Brandel, 60, is chairman of the Lions Club International Foundation, which mobilizes immediate relief and long-term recovery projects after major humanitarian disasters. Murphy, 51, Brandel's wife, is an anesthesiologist at Winthrop-University Hospital.
When the two flew to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, the Dominican Lions Club organization already had begun sending in trucks laden with food, water and medical supplies. As the flow of emergency aid continued, Brandel convened an international team in Jimani, a city in the Dominican Republic, to begin looking to the future: What will Haiti need? What can we do to rebuild it?
Murphy recounted how William Eliacin, chief of Haiti's three Lions Club chapters, addressed the group.
"Tears came to his eyes, his voice broke. He was apologetic," she said. "He'd been working nonstop for 12 days. William's house was not damaged, but he and his wife had been sleeping in their car" because they're afraid to sleep indoors.
The Lions foundation, an organization with 1.3 million members in 205 countries, continues to work in those areas, offering vocational training and rebuilding homes, schools and villages.
The couple returned from Haiti Saturday.
Brandel said he and his colleagues are now considering long-term projects there. "We don't want to duplicate what other people are doing," he said, explaining that the group's Haitian members will direct them to the greatest needs.
Three Haitian Lions died in the earthquake, he said.