Marie-Yolaine Eusebe has been chosen as "Greatest Person of the Day" on Huffington Post. Eusebe is amongst a select group of people from all across the country who have held that title. To see the story on Huffington Post, click here.
It’s been more than 35 years since Marie-Yolaine Eusebe and her family emigrated from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to the United States.
She was only six years old when her family left. And today, she’s long adjusted to her American life in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she has lived for the last ten years.
But her childhood memories of the island remain in tact: She remembers fondly holding her cousins’ hands, as they walked along the dirt roads to school together; She remembers celestial bodies so bright that, even in a village without electricity, the moon and stars lit up the evening skies like daylight.
But what she remembers most is the water: clear-blue, welcoming and warm— so warm, the difference between the temperature on land and the one at sea was barely distinguishable.
“Twenty years later, I went back with my dad, and it was wonderful,” said Eusebe. “It brought back those memories, because the water still felt the same, and it was awesome and beautiful. To this day, my friends say I’m bourgie about my beaches. But it’s because of Haiti; I need to be able to see my feet.”
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Eusebe’s native island, and in just 35 seconds, more than 300,000 Haitian people lost their lives while another 1.5 million lost their homes.
Witnessing her beloved homeland ripped apart so suddenly and its people suffer in its after effects was devastating for Eusebe. Most of her family remained on the island, so she knew she had to do something. She wasn’t sure what that “something” was, but whatever it was, she had to act quickly.
"We kept hearing that all this money that folks were contributing, like myself, was not getting to where we were told it was getting to,” said Eusebe. "So I wanted to find out for myself."
Eusebe left her job at American Express and in May 2010 founded Community2Community (C2C) and the Community2Community Haïti Restoration and Transformation Pilot Project, a non-profit initiative to mobilize people and resources toward the purpose of restoring and rebuilding self-sufficiency in communities devastated by disaster.
In August of 2010, Eusebe, with two others, left for Haiti. They visited Petit Goâve, a coastal town (and her father’s hometown), about 42 miles outside of Port-au-Prince. "We made it a point not to promise anything because we really wanted to listen and find out more,” she said.
C2C’s first project: Build a complete water system in Piton Vallue, Petit Goâve. Quickly, Eusebe was able to galvanize a dedicated team of volunteers.
"I don’t know anything about engineering, and I’m not an architect,” she said. Another concern was a need for a local technical language translator. But both problems somehow seemed to solve themselves; For example, everyone seemed to speak through calculations. "Everybody spoke math, it was great.”
Then, in June 2011, another disaster struck the still flailing island: About 150,000 people in Haiti contracted cholera, a bacterial disease spread person-to-person through contaminated food and water.
Cholera causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and, in many cases, death. Within months 3,500 more of Haiti’s residents had died, and another 3,000 more were predicted to follow.
What did C2C do? They purchased 25,000 aqua-tabs and conducted a 1-day intervention teaching the community about cholera and how to clean their water. The result? 600 lives saved.
“Sometimes you don’t know if anything that you are doing matters…But that day, I felt really good, because I knew that 600 people were alive because of us."
"Nothing is worse than feeling thirsty, and not having water,” said Eusebe. “Cholera is a quick killer. It can kill an adult in like four hours.”
So, far C2C has completed the first phase of the project's three phases. The first phase entailed securing a spring box that would effectively release a water source at a rate of 6 gallons a minute.
When the water system was first started, the entire village showed up to drink clean water to avoid cholera infection. The second phase requiring ground excavation for the water tank was completed in October 2011. Installation of the water tank, is in progress.
C2C is fundraising now to complete the third and final phase of the water project, which is to build the kiosk that will run the water through pipes around the village, so people do not have to walk four hours to drink. The final phase is scheduled to commence in March of this year.
On Friday, January 13, at 8:00pm, C2C will host a fundraiser and concert to raise money for the third phase at the Brooklyn College Center for the Performing Arts, Walt Whitman Theater, located at Campus Road & Hillel Place, (the intersection of Hillel Place, Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues).
“It’s important know that this isn’t a one-time thing. This is a water system,” said Eusebe. “What that means is that not only will residents be able to get water from the spring and not have to worry about cholera, but it will provide employment as well, because the community will be tasked with having to maintain it, clean it… so all of our initiatives always are toward self-sufficiency”
The concert also is a vehicle to raise money for C2C’s next three projects in Haiti, which will include building schools for children, re-building roads and a re-forestation initiative.
To volunteer with or make a financial donation to Community 2 Community’s ongoing initiatives, visit here.
“This is not a club or a fad; we’re very serious about this,” said Eusebe. “It’s going to take more than two years to fix the problems in Haiti, but it’s all doable.
“We can do this. We will do this. Or better yet, we are doing it.”
This story was written with contributed reporting by Gwen Ruelle.