Quake Crushes Haitian Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit

Romel Joseph, founder of The New Victorian School in Haiti, and his daughter Victoria perform at the Aventura Cultural Center in Miami on Jan. 8. It was Joseph's first performance since last year's earthquake. i i

hide captionRomel Joseph, founder of The New Victorian School in Haiti, and his daughter Victoria perform at the Aventura Cultural Center in Miami on Jan. 8. It was Joseph's first performance since last year's earthquake.

Neil Oxenburg/Courtesy of Victoria Joseph
Romel Joseph, founder of The New Victorian School in Haiti, and his daughter Victoria perform at the Aventura Cultural Center in Miami on Jan. 8. It was Joseph's first performance since last year's earthquake.

Romel Joseph, founder of The New Victorian School in Haiti, and his daughter Victoria perform at the Aventura Cultural Center in Miami on Jan. 8. It was Joseph's first performance since last year's earthquake.

Neil Oxenburg/Courtesy of Victoria Joseph
Romel Joseph (center), his son Bradley, and his daughter Victoria at the hospital where Romel was treated for his injuries in January of last year.

hide captionJoseph is flanked by his son Bradley and daughter Victoria at the hospital where he was treated after being injured in the earthquake.

Courtesy of Victoria Joseph

Last February, violinist Romel Joseph was being treated at a Miami hospital for injuries he suffered during the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The school he founded in Port-au-Prince had literally crushed him in the quake. He was trapped underneath the rubble for 18 hours before being rescued; his pregnant wife did not survive.

From his hospital bed, Joseph promised: "The only thing I do know is as soon as I am able to walk and I am functional that I will go back to Haiti, and I will start the reconstruction of the Victorian School."

Sure enough, about a month later, he returned to Haiti and began to rebuild the school. During that time, he also wrote a book and nursed himself back to health, paying special attention to his crushed left hand. That's his fingering hand, the one the Julliard-trained musician uses to press the strings of his violin.

A year after the earthquake, Joseph, like much of southern Haiti, is rebuilding. He has returned to Haiti several times to oversee the reconstruction of the New Victorian School. In September, a temporary shelter was set up, where 208 students resumed their studies.

Even with three broken fingers on his left hand, Joseph has regained enough strength to begin playing the violin again. There are signs of hope everywhere.

"Haiti has a long, long way to go," Joseph says. "However, we have to hope that it's going to get there. We have to hope.”

Having to remain resilient in the face of tragedy is not unfamiliar to Joseph. He lost his eyesight as a child, and 10 years before the earthquake struck, a fire destroyed The New Victorian School. Though the loss of his wife and physical recovery has been trying, Joseph remains optimistic.

"Eventually, life has to go on," Joseph tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "This is a whole new episode of my life. I have to follow the mission I have for the rest of the time I have around."

Joseph's left hand has recovered to the point where he can play simple pieces, which has made moving on from the tragedy a little easier.

"I'm really thankful because I'm able to play some things. And it's really wonderful because I never thought I'd be able to again," he says.

Accompanied by his daughter Victoria on viola, Joseph demonstrates his newly regained ability with Handel's "Passacaglia."

"[The song] reminds me of remembrance, which is kind of sad," he says. "But at the same time, it has a happy ending, which is what it's going to be all about: a happy ending and happy recommencement."

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