A blockbuster Haiti benefit recruits many of the county’s favorite groups.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
“I dropped everything and have been glued to my TV ever since,” Claude Constant says of the moment she found out about the earthquake in Haiti.
Constant, a single mother, kindergarten teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Salinas and native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, moved to the United States in 1980. (She later returned to adopt her now 13-year-old daughter, Symphonie.)
Though her mother and two sisters are no longer living in Haiti, Constant was far from worry free; many of her close aunts, uncle and cousins still live in Port-au-Prince and were unreachable for several days following the disaster.
“There was nothing I could do,” she says, struggling to hold back sobs. “For the first couple of days, I couldn’t even cry. I have walked those streets, I knew those buildings and I just couldn’t imagine what kind of world it was down there. After that, I started crying. I had a feeling of helplessness.”
That feeling was eased when Carmel music teacher and musician Nick Williams – Symphonie’s vocal coach – came up with the idea to put together a Monterey Haiti benefit a week after the earthquake.
“It is something that just needed to happen here,” he says.
The longtime musician enlisted a committee including Constant, Fatima Dias of United Way and former Haiti Peace Corps director Francine Rodd.
A who’s who of Monterey’s music scene will anchor the Hearts for Haiti benefit at Embassy Suites this Saturday night. The roster of more than 10 acts includes Carla Blackwell, Jonah and the Whalewatchers, Red Beans and Rice, the Jazz Festival Alumni and Symphonie Constant, who sang the National Anthem at San Francisco’s AT&T Park last year. The event will also feature three area comedians, magician Richard Myer, door prizes and a silent auction. Williams – also playing the benefit with the Nick Williams Trio – hopes the hefty musical lineup will raise more than $10,000.
“I have a heartfelt sympathy for [the Haitians],” Williams says. “We’re going to give them what they need in materials and services. Unless there’s some kind of a direct line for cash, they only see 20 percent of the money coming in, if they’re lucky.”
Williams, who spent time in Haiti 15 years ago, has vivid memories of the perpetual impoverishment that surrounded him.
“The begging was so bad at times that it was impossible to walk down the street or get out of a taxi,” he says.
But when Constant is asked about the indigent state of Haiti, she responds very differently: She paints colorful vignettes rich with description of large family gatherings, cooking traditional Haitian food and playing outside with her cousins.
“[Haiti] was a good place to grow up,” she says. “I remember being together on holidays and everybody would be in the kitchen doing something. I remember one of my aunts would be the orchestrator of everything. There was a feeling of losing that stuff with the earthquake.”
Constant yearns to travel back to her homeland this summer as a volunteer, but hasn’t had any luck hooking up with the organizations she’s contacted. If she doesn’t hear back from anyone, she plans on going anyway and helping wherever she can.
“I know people have given a lot,” Constant adds, “but there’s still so much to get done.”