Haiti earthquake survivor tells Kiwanis Club of experience

BY MAE YOUSIF-BASHI • mbashi@news-press.com • January 28, 2010

1:10 A.M. — For years, Thony Thermidor has been teaching the children of Haiti not to ask for money. He wanted to lead them away from a life of begging.

“If you need money,” he told them, “then you earn it.”

But Thermidor, 49, had to go against his own philosophy as he shared his story Wednesday with fellow Kiwanians of the Harney Point Kiwanis Club and Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral.

He is a survivor of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, and he asked the group of about 25 in attendance to give whatever they could to help the stricken country.

“I do not want to ask for money,” Thermidor said as tears fell from his face. But he knew it was the only way to help his Haitian neighbors.

Members of the Cape Coral Kiwanis club responded with nearly $250.

“We’ve been wondering who to give our money to for Haiti, and this is the perfect solution,” Audrey Confer said.

Thermidor became an American citizen when he moved from Haiti to Miami in 1985. He now spends July in Fort Myers and the rest of the year in Haiti.

He has been a member of the Harney Point Kiwanis Club for three years, and he started a Kiwanis Club in Haiti less than a year ago. He began soccer camps at five Haitian schools to help keep kids off the streets, where they would most likely be forced into selling drugs or a life of poverty.

“I liked the Kiwanis philosophy of helping kids,” he said.

The club has about 50 adult members and 350 children and teenagers, Thermidor said. At least three of those children – two boys and one girl – died in the earthquake. The rest of the Kiwanians, adults and children, are now homeless, he said.

Thermidor was conducting a Kiwanis meeting when the earthquake hit.

“It sounded like 1,000 horses went through our building,” he said. “I told everyone to get out of the building.”

The group went outside, where they hit the ground.

“It was like the earth was trying to fold over us,” he said. “I looked around and all of the buildings began crumpling. All of this was within seconds.”

Once the quake was over, he rose to his feet and tried to take it all in.

“You are in the middle of disaster, people are bleeding, limbs are gone,” he said. “A girl was walking toward me, headless, with her arms stretched out for help.”

That girl’s body lay in front of Thermidor’s home for five days before it was removed, he said. For days, unable to sleep at night, he lay in the street next to dead bodies.

The Kiwanis money will go to purchase food and supplies to build a temporary shelter and house as many Haitians as possible.

Trudy Hutchinson, president of the Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral, said she and the rest of the group will help raise funds before Thermidor heads back to Haiti in February.

“This is what Kiwanis does, what keeps you going as a Kiwanian,” she said. “We’re changing the world one child at a time.”

Tim Hauck, managing funeral director at Metz Funeral Home in Cape Coral, could also soon be traveling to Haiti to provide mortuary aid.

He is part of a team of volunteers with the Department of Health and Human Services, that has been placed on alert. He is not sure when he will leave.

“Anytime there’s a possibility of mass fatality, they put us on alert to help,” he said.

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