Cara BlackWhen news of Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Port-au-Prince reached Gannon University senior occupational therapy major Cara Black, she said she was deeply distressed – but willing to do whatever she could to help.

Black will be featured at 7 p.m. tonight on Channel 35 WSEE in Erie’s Haitian earthquake relief telethon – along with fellow Gannon student Jamie Markwell, a junior pre-physical therapy major. The two will share their experiences as missionaries and help raise funds from callers.

Black has been to the island country nine times – soon to be 10 in the middle of this year – first in high school to attend church missions and then to do general volunteer work, including giving her time to disabled children at the Miriam Center for Children. Eventually, she even led her own service trips to Haiti with groups of friends from Gannon. When she graduates, Black said she plans on splitting her time between there and the United States to establish occupational therapy training programs for Haitians so they can have quality care year-round.

Black is also on call with The Bair Foundation Christian foster care agency in New Wilmington, Pa., to serve as a translator for Haitian orphans who arrive at the center after the earthquake.

How did you feel when you found out about the earthquake?

I was devastated, because the country is already so poor – the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. They already had nothing, and now they have worse.

The thing is that where the earthquake happened, it actually affects the whole country because the whole country gets their water and their food from Port-au-Prince. So now, the places that weren’t affected, are – they’re not getting clean water in, they’re not getting food. Food prices are going to go up. Everything is going to keep getting worse and worse for this country.

Being here, I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to do enough. I just wish I was there helping, pulling people out of debris… I just felt hopeless this past week. But now that I have some sort of purpose going down and helping the refugees, I feel much better. I look forward to that.

Have you established any friendship with the locals?

I have what I call my “Haitian mom and dad” that have taken me in for the past four years I’ve travelled there. They’re like my parents. I got married in September and they came to the wedding – they flew in from Haiti for the wedding, and that was really touching for me.

So [after the earthquake], when I didn’t hear from them… I was crazy. They have a home in Port-au-Prince, but they had just left two days before.

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve ever stayed in Haiti?

I did live there in August 2007 for three months. But last August, that was just a 10-day trip. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent in Haitian Creole – I understand it more than I can speak it. The agency called and I said, well, I’m not the greatest. And they said, well you’re better than us. I call it “baby Creole” – I can get by.

What kind of volunteer work did you do during your most recent mission trip in August 2009?

The last time I was there, we were with a group of physical therapy students who wanted to work with disabled children – who, in Haiti, are considered to be worth nothing. They’re put on the sides of the streets and in garbage cans just to die. So the mission we went with on that trip took the children in and worked with them – doing therapy, playing with the kids, things like that – because they [The Miriam Center] is opening a new center for children.

We travelled around the country in the northwest zone. I always enjoy taking new people who have never been there, just to see their experiences and to see the surprise on their face.

See photos from Black’s Haiti trips below:

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