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This year, NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano and Zachary Green reported on stories that epitomized human resilience, including a Haitian doctor’s fight against HIV and AIDS, how the Jewish community in Pittsburgh is healing a year after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, and a community of immigrants who arrived in Houston from Venezuela. They join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss their work.
On this final weekend of 2019, we're taking a look back at some of the stories NewsHour Weekend producers and reporters covered this year. The team of Ivette Feliciano and Zachary Green joined anchor Hari Sreenivasan to talk about what went into their reporting and what they're working on for 2020.
You guys took a trip to Haiti this year. It was a very productive one. You came back with a bunch of different stories. What did you find interesting?
So that's right. We went on the ninth anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and we did a three-part series, which I think allowed us to delve into a lot of issues that aren't normally covered in mainstream media.
One piece that we did was about this historically very tumultuous relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And several years ago, the Dominican government decided to strip the citizenship of tens of thousands of Haitian migrants and not only them, but people of Haitian descent who were born and raised in the country. And this has caused a huge problem of statelessness along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
But what initially brought us to Haiti was that one of our wonderful video editors, Judith Wolfe, came to us and told us about this story that she'd heard about this incredible doctor who's based in Port-au-Prince. He runs an organization called GHESKIO, which is the second oldest research institution dedicated to the fight against HIV and AIDS. He and his team have provided thousands of Haitians with free health care and other types of supports. And not only that, but they have really greatly influenced the global guidelines for treating HIV and AIDS in low-resource settings.
In the early 2000s, GHESKIO began providing life-saving antiretroviral medicine to Haitians for free, with support from the global fund and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.
Today, the World Health Organization implements GHESKIO's treatment guidelines for HIV in low-resource settings around the globe.
But not long after GHESKIO's AIDS treatment took off, things literally came crashing down. The 2010 earthquake destroyed or badly damaged half of its buildings. Four staff members died, and nearly everyone lost a loved one.
Dr. Jean William Pape:
I must say the earthquake was the toughest blow that we had. And what encouraged me is that the next day, 60% of our staff was here. So i assembled them in a room. And I said, "Look, we are the first black country to become independent. We've had major calamities before. We overcame them. And we will overcome this one.
It was really wonderful for us to be able to highlight this unique resilience of this group, because so much of what we hear out of Haiti is about political unrest or deadly epidemics or poverty and devastation. So to be able to cover this was really special.
What was the feedback after you did that story on the hospital?
Dr. Pape's team at GHESKIO notified us that after our piece aired, they received $8,000 in unsolicited donations. So while that wasn't our initial intention going out there, it's really great to hear that the pieces that we produce have a direct impact.
And you've been covering different layers of the kind of immigration conversation in America and different stories. And one of the fascinating pieces that you had this year was about Venezuelan migrants but in the United States.
Yes. As we all know, there is a crisis in Venezuela right now. And Venezuelans are fleeing the country in droves. They're seeking refuge in neighboring countries. And a lot of them are coming here to the U.S. Where there are Venezuelan communities. And one of the biggest communities is in the Houston area. There have been longstanding ties between Houston and Venezuela because of their their shared interests in the oil industry. And so Venezuelans have been coming to Houston and working for years. And so there's already this sort of homegrown place for a lot of them to come to.
They came to our business and totally destroyed it. They looted it, they broke the glass, they stole absolutely all the material, years of work. They drew graffiti of weapons on the walls that said, "We're coming for you, we're coming for your family, we want you dead and that's it." I knew that I couldn't stay in the country with my wife and children anymore.
In 2016, Lozano, his wife, and two children walked nearly 150 miles to cross over into neighboring Colombia. Two days later, they boarded a flight to Houston, Texas.
We left all our family, we left our house, our apartment, we left our friends and the belongings that we still had left. They remained in our house. Everything.
Lozano says they decided to come to the Houston area at the urging of a family friend who lived there.
He told us that there was a Hispanic and Venezuelan community here, that Venezuelans had been coming to Houston and have been living here for years.
So this population tends to be highly educated — they're doctors, they're engineers, and they're coming to the country with basically nothing. A lot of people in the community are hoping that the U.S. government will grant them temporary protective status as it's been granted to other countries in times of crisis. It was a really heartbreaking look at these folks who are just trying to find somewhere safe to be after escaping what are very, very dire straits right now in their home country.
And this past year was also a year after the Tree of Life shootings, which you two scrambled to right when it happened. But a lot of times in these kind of stories, we don't get an opportunity to go back and see what's happened to the community after that tragedy. So what do you find?
Well, we went to Pittsburgh the day after the shooting last year. And so this year, we wanted to go back and we wanted to see how the community was faring. We spoke with a mental health expert while we were there and one of the things that he said was that there's no way to return to the normal that was your life before this event happened. So what the community is trying to do now is to integrate that experience and define those positive ways of healing.
Rabbi Jonathan Perlman:
I go through these scenarios in my mind. I think a lot of the other victims do too, about, you know, I could have done more, I could have saved people, why did this person choose to do x, y, and z? Why did they turn the other way? It's part of the trauma, you know. It's part of being human.
As the community entered the first new year since the attack, Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, said he was feeling anxious.
What's on your mind? What are you thinking right now?
I'm afraid. I'm afraid because the High Holidays are a time of reflection, of introspection, of asking God for forgiveness, and to write us in the Book of Life. How do you relate that to what happened last October? How do you think about your future when you have a past hanging over you?
One thing that we saw while we were there is that we spoke with a board member from Tree of Life and she showed us all of this artwork that had been sent in by students from all over the country, including a lot of artwork from Parkland High School in Florida, which suffered its own shooting a few months before the one at Tree of Life. And they'd taken this artwork and they've blown it up. They've blown up very large prints of it and they put it all around the fencing, around the building, that housed Tree of Life. It was very sad, but it was also life affirming and a way to see that this community is finding a way to kind of bind themselves together again after this.
And I remember something that she told us, which just sticks in my mind, is that they had been, you know, involuntarily inducted into this club that nobody wants to be a part of, but that they found that that network, that community of people who have also been through tragic events like this it's a real, tangible network of people. And actually, one woman who we spoke to, Michelle Rosenthal, who lost two brothers in the attack, said that she's met with Parkland families and that it's an instant connection. And that when similar tragedies happen, like in El Paso or Dayton, Ohio, they get in touch with each other. They know how triggering these events can be. And it's the type of support that only people who have been through something like that can provide each other. So that really sticks with me.
Zach Green, Ivette Feliciano. Thank you both.
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