It has been all of twenty years since 33-year-old Army Staff Sgt Junior Florestal left Haiti for the United States. Now, he has come back – but it was homecoming that was far from what he had envisioned.
Florestal is a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, one of at least three who are Haitian-American. He and his comrades are helping to bring food, water and supplies to the survivors of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti last week. He followed the events on TV the day of the earthquake, and soon learned that he will be leaving with his unit and heading for Haiti.
He wanted to be of help – but he also took it as an opportunity to find relatives who are living in Port-au-Prince and in nearby villages around the capital. Being fluent in Creole, he has also been serving as a translator for officers who are coordinating relief operations since his arrival in Haiti on Saturday.
Survivors have been trying to communicate with U.S. troops, imploring for more food, water and medical help. Hearing Florestal respond in Creole surprised some of them, but according to Florestal, “They feel good that there are Haitians in the U.S. Army.”
During his free time, he asked refugees for information about his family, directing questions to people who are waiting in line for food. Eventually, he met one of his cousins, who told him that most of his family had survived, information that he later passed on to his anxious mother. She had been trying in vain to get in touch with relatives in Haiti from her home in Orlando, Florida and had been crying. That has since been replaced with joy at knowing that her siblings – a brother and a sister – had survived.
US troops continue to assist in the relief operations in Haiti.