This Saturday, March 6, she and her friends will open the doors to the Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., for an event they are calling Hands for Haiti. Between 7 and 10 p.m., there will be lots of music and poetry, and art worthy of the cause they seek to serve. Admission is $20, with a special rate of $10 for students. The group hopes to raise $10,000 and send it to the Lambi Fund, which has been supporting grass-roots efforts for sustainable development in Haiti since 1994.
A former Paris correspondent for The Washington Post, Lorentzsen got involved after the earthquake for very personal reasons. “My best friend from college, Katya Pischalnikova, works in Haiti for the United Nations. She was in that UN building that you saw on the TV, the one that collapsed, and she was trapped in the building for hours.”
Motivated by her friend’s close call, she began to speak with others concerned with Haiti. They organized an earlier benefit at SPARK Art Space, 1005 E. Fayette St., that raised more than $1,000 to benefit Partners in Health, the health promotion group started by Dr. Paul Farmer.
Once Lorentzsen and her friends began to talk up the idea for a larger benefit, they found that musicians couldn’t wait to volunteer their services. “We contacted the Eastman School of Music and the Society for New Music,” she said. “They were just wonderful.”
Musicians who are participating include folk duo Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman, blues-jazz band Dave Hanlon’s Cookbook, a classical ensemble from the Society for New Music, jazz musicians Dariusz Terefenko and Andrew Russo, folk-Brazilian duo Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers and Josh Dekaney, retired Syracuse Symphony Orchestra member flautist John Oberbrunner with high school flute players, and folk-pop Ruben Lee with band.
In addition to the music, there will be poetry performances by SU poet and associate professor of writing Arthur Flowers, and an update on Haiti from local Haitian-American architect Kenel Antoine.
Lorentzsen spent a long time deciding which organization should receive the fruits of the generosity of the Syracuse community. “We thought about the Red Cross, like everyone else,” she said. “But a lot of Haitians we spoke to suggested other organizations. I wanted to find an organization that was Haitian-driven, very grass-roots and worked with women, because it’s been found that when women are involved in development efforts, things work better.”
After hours of research, she found the Lambi Fund for Haiti, which she believes will help Haitians fulfill their own dreams for sustainable economic development. Lambi Fund derives its name from the Creole word for the conch shell, which was used to alert slaves during the slave rebellion against French colonial rule in 1791.
The Lambi Fund has been operating in Haiti since 1994. “They are doing immediate relief now, but their focus is on long-term development,” noted Lorentzsen. “This isn’t a bunch of governments coming in and saying what should be done. It’s not a group of North Americans coming in and saying what should be done.”
Lambi Fund is primarily involved with supporting peasant organizations. It was formed in 1994 with the stated mission of assisting “the democratic popular movement in Haiti.” The group has an annual budget of $1 million, which they expect will double this year due to the earthquake, and they work only in one country—Haiti.
By comparison, the Clinton Bush fund for Haiti, set up by the two former presidents at the request of President Barack Obama, raised $31 million in its first month of operations. The American Red Cross raised $32 million for Haitian relief through its text message donation program alone.
Events like Hands for Haiti are springing up all over the United States. Here in Syracuse, Erika Lorentzsen is as amazed as she is pleased with the response. “The people at the Palace have been just great with us,” she noted. “They gave us such a great deal. The only thing they are going to make money on is the sales at the bar.” So drink up, folks.
“I was waiting for the right opportunity to do something for Haiti,” said Palace owner Michael Heagerty. “It seemed like a good place to put my energy.”
In other Haiti-related news, Cicero’s Abundant Life Christian Center, will send 30 people there on March 6. According to church leader Joseph Coudriet, the team will assist a Haitian church in finishing the demolition of their damaged church, and will serve in the church’s medical clinic.