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City Lights: Haiti still needs us

July 21, 2010|By Michael Miller

Remember Haiti? The impoverished Caribbean island became the focus of international attention in January when a 7.0 earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people and left countless more displaced. For awhile, it was hard to open a newspaper without reading a story about relief efforts on the ground or a fundraiser in the classroom. Nowadays, with BP and Abby Sunderland dominating the headlines, you rarely hear it mentioned.

The title of the Los Angeles Times' series on Haiti this summer — "Living in Limbo" — hinted at how much work still needed to be done. So we should be doubly grateful for people like Matt Vecere, a former Huntington Beach resident who quit his job last month, booked a one-way ticket to Haiti and now spends his days assisting people whose poverty would shock the leanest parts of Orange County.

I heard about Vecere from former Independent City Editor Jennifer Frehn and managed to reach him by e-mail. The country, he noted, had spotty electricity, and he was lucky enough to have a generator to power his computer.

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Vecere has the kind of resume that might point to a promising career. He's served as a magazine editor, worked for a surfboard and clothing brand in San Clemente, even written an autobiography that's awaiting publication. In between those jobs, he's led a second life of assisting those in need — starting in college, when he brought blankets and food to homeless Atlantic City residents.

When news of the Haiti quake hit, Vecere had recently lost his job at an Alzheimer's nonprofit and was working as a copy editor in Irvine. The images from Haiti inspired him to take action. He rounded up friends and coworkers to raise money for Waves for Water, a nonprofit that delivers water filtration systems to blighted parts of the world. The group planned to fly to Haiti to help install the systems, but one by one, the members dropped out until only Vecere remained.

"Pretty soon, I was on a plane to Haiti with a suitcase full of water filters and not much of a clue as to what I was going to do with them," he told me.

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