Since he assumed the role more than 30 years ago, attorney Albert Momjian’s efforts as honorary consul to the Republic of Haiti for the Philadelphia region have involved everything from helping to donate equipment and supplies to Haitian public hospitals to organizing community outreach programs for local Haitian children.
But that role has changed drastically in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 and left possibly thousands dead and thousands of others homeless.
Since the disaster struck, Momjian has been scrambling to find efficient ways to send money and relief workers to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, all the while fielding endless calls from local Haitians desperate to find out whether their loved ones survived the disaster.
“I’ve been getting dozens and dozens of calls from people saying [things like] ‘I haven’t heard from my dad,'” he said, the helplessness, confusion and frustration of the situation apparent in his voice. “I hate to tell them that if they haven’t heard from their dad by now, it’s likely their dad might be dead or dying underneath the rubble. Anyone who managed to get out can get some kind of access to a phone.”
Momjian called current efforts to send relief workers to Haiti “an impossible situation” because the quake has left few options for entering the already notoriously inaccessible country.
And even if workers could get into the capital, he said, there’s no shelter for them.
“These are situations where you can’t even get people who are willing to help a place to stay down there,” he said. “We can get people collected, but we don’t know where to put them when they go down.”
Momjian, who chairs the family law department at Philadelphia-based firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, was appointed the Philadelphia region’s honorary consul to Haiti in 1978 by Jean-Claude Duvalier, the country’s ruler at the time.
Over the years, he said, he has grown close to the Haitian community in Philadelphia.
“I can tell you the people in the Haitian community here are wonderful, God-loving people,” he said.
And it’s because of this, he said, that he feels so compelled to help the victims of the quake and their families.
Momjian said it has been so hectic in the days following the quake that he has been neglecting some of his clients, which he said he has gotten “a little heat” for.
“But I feel an obligation,” he said of his desire to assist the devastated country. “I’m doing everything I can.”
And despite the difficulties aid workers all over the world have faced in the aftermath of the quake, Momjian said efforts continue to be made locally.
For example, he said he has been in contact with the Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia, a nonprofit that is helping to organize a group of medical professionals to go down and assist the sick and injured in Port-au-Prince.
Momjian said he has also been contacted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which said it is planning to send its own team of medical professionals to the country.
According to Momjian, Haiti is especially in need of pediatric care right now.
And while he described the quake’s aftermath as “such a helpless situation, you just want to sit down and pray and get God to overcome it,” Momjian said he has been heartened by the outpouring of support for the people of Haiti he has witnessed from all around the world over the past few days.