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Sisters seek help for native Haiti
A woman cries out for her lost friend as volunteers search in the rubble of a collapsed building in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Jan. 14. - photo by McClatchy Newspapers


* Churches scramble to assist.

Lise Philippe has heard from friends about the devastation resulting from the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that hit her native Haiti last week.

But the West Forsyth High School junior is still waiting to learn if her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are safe.

“They live in the capital [Port-au-Prince]," she said. "We’ve been trying to call them on their phones, but it’s very difficult to reach them.

“I have heard from friends. They said they talked to a part of my family, they said like some of them are OK, but I have not talked to them personally.”

The 17-year-old and her two sisters, Ann and Sarah, moved from Haiti to Forsyth in summer 2007. They were born in Port-au-Prince and later moved to Jacmel, a coastal region about 50 miles away.

Their father, Louis, is a surgeon who over the past couple years has returned several times to the impoverished Caribbean nation to offer help.

But Philippe said the circumstances were not the same when her father left Friday morning for Haiti.

“It’s a disaster there," she said. "People don’t have medication because the hospital collapsed. They don’t have people to work at the hospital to help people, and people need medicine.

“They don’t have these kinds of stuff, so he needs to go back to help to find shelter and try to find food to feed people. He wanted to help his community. It’s very important to him.”

Her classmates have been supportive, but it’s been difficult for Philippe to hear from friends in Haiti. Many of them, she said, have lost family members, their homes and friends.

Some of her friends didn’t make it through Tuesday's earthquake, and those that did have few places to turn for help.

“Right now, people don’t have food to eat," she said. "They are living on the street. They have nowhere to go. Their houses have collapsed.

"They basically have nothing and they are suffering, so I think they really need help in this moment. I’m worrying because every day you hear, ‘People are missing, people are missing, more people are missing.’ And I get worried when I cannot hear about my family."

Philippe said she is trying to keep a level head. For her 16-year-old sister Ann, however, it’s a bigger challenge.

"She gets upset," Philippe said. "She gets mad, and she also gets very emotional about it. I do get emotional also about it."

Heidi Hepler and other teachers in West Forsyth High’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program couldn’t help but get emotional too.

“We decided to run a fundraiser in their honor, but benefiting the Haitian relief fund,” Hepler said. “All of our students will wear red in recognition of the tragedy that struck Haiti and our International Club, of which [the sisters] are a part, and our Y Club ... will be collecting funds to give to the Red Cross.

“It’s something good for the kids and makes them feel good.”

Hepler said Lise and Ann Philippe, along with their sister Sarah, who is in middle school, have made the tragedy more real for students.

The older girls were featured on West’s morning news program. While they are both shy, their story spoke volumes to students, Hepler said.

All day Wednesday, students can donate money to their peers and receive their name on a red cross. Parents and members of the community can also stop by the main office to contribute.

All the crosses will be displayed at the school in gratitude to donors.

Lise Philippe said she appreciates her Forsyth County friends helping send relief to her native country.

“It would be good if it raised a lot of money, but if they give like with all their heart, I think that’s better,” she said. “No matter how they give, I know for sure it will help somebody.”