Ricky Jean Francois was in the process of celebrating the Washington Redskins’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday evening when he received a text from his teammate, wide receiver Pierre Garcon. It had nothing to do with football. Instead, it was a sobering reminder of the world around them.
Garcon asked the defensive end if he wanted to travel to Haiti, an idea pitched to the wide receiver by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in response to the devastation after Hurricane Matthew hit the island nation last week.
“Okay, sure,” Francois responded. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Next stop Haiti… pic.twitter.com/sBHxJXn4Uh
— Ricky Jean Francois (@Freakyjean99) October 10, 2016
Garcon and Jean Francois, both of Haitian descent, made the trek on Snyder’s private jet Monday morning to Port-au-Prince, a powerful 24-hour experience for both players. They landed just after 1 p.m. ET in the country’s capital with medical supplies to provide to Hospital Bernard Mevs. Garcon said Snyder, who also sent a plane full of supplies to the Bahamas as well following the hurricane, had asked him about the hurricane and his family’s safety prior to landfall.
The death toll of the Category 4 storm has reportedly risen to 1,000 people. The United Nations humanitarian agency said about 750,000 people in southwest Haiti will need “life-saving assistance and protection” over the next three months. It estimated that at least 2.4 million people have been affected by the hurricane in a country with a population of about 11 million.
Snyder asked Garcon, who was born in upstate New York but attended high school in South Florida, if there was anything he could do, then asked if he wanted to fly down to Haiti and help. Garcon agreed, and asked Jean Francois to tag along as they stocked up on IVs and saline.
“Port-au-Prince is definitely an eye-opening place where they actually didn’t get hit as bad as they anticipated by the hurricane,” Garcon said prior to heading back to the D.C. area. “There’s different parts that were badly hurt, but there’s still a lot of people in Port-au-Prince that need a lot of medical attention, and they flew in a lot of people from different parts of the country to Port-au-Prince to give them even more medical attention because that’s where most of the better hospitals are at.”
Garcon also went down to Haiti following a devastating earthquake in 2010 that left a death toll of more than 100,000. He said these natural disasters continue to set back Haiti, the world’s first black republic, which declared its independence from France in 1804, but Garcon believes the people will bounce back with the same resiliency they’ve always displayed.
“We’re from an area where you have to keep fighting to survive, keep fighting to live,” Garcon said. “You have to keep working hard regardless and at some point your break will come. But that’s where we get our mentality, our toughness, our grind and our hustle. It’s where we’re from. I guess it’s instilled in us when we’re born or the culture that we grew up in. You have to keep fighting regardless of what life throws at you. You have to keep working hard and keep living.”
Jean Francois, a Miami native, said it felt like a normal day in the capital, given how much of the destruction occurred in the southwestern peninsula.
“I’m used to seeing big, great hospitals like massive hospitals the size of a college campus,” Jean Francois said. “You come in here and got 20-30 beds in a room that’s not even that big that can’t actually fit all those in the room. You’re seeing nurses work with what they have. They don’t have the equipment we have. They don’t have some of the things we have. Just sitting down to talk to one of the head ladies in the building with me asking her about certain things going on and just hearing her answers back, it gave me the reality check.”
The experience of aiding the nation in need left Garcon and Jean Francois both thankful and hoping others step up and do the same over the next few months by giving their money, resources and time.
“I understand it’s easy to pick up the phone and put your debit card down or your credit card down and donate $100 or $200, but what’s really real to us, our people of Haiti, is to see your face here and seeing you put the time in, put the work in, put the sweat in to rebuild our country,” Jean Francois said. “And it’s a beautiful country. I understand in the media’s eyes, they’re going to show the disaster and all. Before the disaster struck, you’ve seen happy people. You’ve seen people with pride. You’ve seen people that had so much going for themselves, and they still have that right now. The money and stuff, that’s okay. But you coming here, you giving supplies and bringing it here yourself, showing your face and knowing that you want to be a part of this to help other human beings — because if you was in the same position, you would like the same too — it’s a blessing. The last 24 hours has been a blessing.”
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