RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Many Haitians are trying to leave Port-au-Prince, and some are finding refuge in the country next door. Haiti shares an island, sitting side by side with the Dominican Republic. And in the past week, that country has become a major disaster relief center. The relationship between these two nations has not always been harmonious. But after the earthquake, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez was the first head of state to visit Haiti, and hes pledged to help reconstruct Haiti. As NPRs John Burnett reports from Santo Domingo, Haitians taking refuge in the Dominican Republic are pleasantly surprised to find a warm welcome.
JOHN BURNETT: Traditionally, the border to the Dominican Republic has been unfriendly to Haitians, but in an unprecedented gesture of neighborliness, the D.R., as its called, has opened the border to injured Haitians, many of whom are being treated here at the Dario Contreras public hospital in the capital of Santo Domingo.
Forlorn Haitians of all ages lie stoically in hospital beds that now line the corridors, their gruesome wounds bandaged, their arms attached to I.V. bags.
ALVERA POLINESE(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: I never thought the Dominican president would do this, says Alvera Polinese, a 50-year-old Haitian, who lives in the D.R. She came to the hospital with the slim hope of finding her mother, whos not been heard from since the earthquake. He extended his hand to Haitians. He's shown that he loves the people of Haiti, she says.
All over town, Dominicans are bringing relief supplies into collection centers to be loaded onto trucks that will make the six-hour overland journey to Port-au-Prince.
At Centro Bono, a Jesuit charity, volunteers pack boxes full of penicillin, canned food, toilet paper, shoes, baby food and water.
No one remembers an outpouring like this before, not even when Haiti got hit by four cyclones in 2008 and its flooded towns begged for assistance. But the earthquake is different, says Sonia Adames, director of the Jesuit Aid Center.
Ms. SONIA ADAMES (Director, Jesuit Aid Center): (Through translator) Truly, there is a lot of prejudice toward Haiti in the Dominican Republic. But this earthquake that has physically shaken Haiti has also shaken Dominican society. People have their hearts in their hands.
BURNETT: Adames bustles around the warehouse, coordinating her volunteers with a clipboard and warm smile. She says despite this momentary outbreak of brotherly love, the old fears are there. Indeed, here in the narrow streets of the capital's old Spanish colonial sector, the earthquake has heightened age old worries of a human stampede from Haiti that could overwhelm the DR and dilute its Hispanic culture. Already Haitians make up 10 to 20 percent of the DRs 10 million people. They do the hard, low-paying labor, sweeping streets, cutting sugar cane, laying bricks.
Julio Cesar Rivera sells Rosaries in front of the cathedral.
Mr. JULIO CESAR RIVERA: (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: We had lots of Haitian immigrants before, and now we're going to have even more. And for good reason, because what happened was huge, he says but we can't absorb anymore. Our hospitals don't have any more bed space. We need to help them, but we Dominicans need help too. And with that he spotted a cluster of European tourists and raced away, his rosaries jangling. Hispaniola is the only island in the world shared by two countries that are so different, said Dan O'Neil. As director of the Pan American Development Foundation here in Santo Domingo for the past 12 years, O'Neil spends equal time in both countries.
Mr. DAN ONEIL (Director, Pan American Development Foundation): Haiti is a poor, black country, French-speaking - basically living on subsistence agriculture. The Dominican Republic, Spanish, Latin, export-focused economy, tourism. You couldn't have had two more different worlds and they meet at the border.
BURNETT: At the moment, the Dominican Republic is being transformed into a staging ground for the burgeoning Haitian relief effort, and will continue to play this role during the long reconstruction process. With gridlock at Haiti's airport, relief workers, journalists and now the U.S. military, are streaming into the DR's airports.
Rosa Maria Garcia, is president of the Dominican-Haitian Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. ROSA MARIA GARCIA (President, Dominican-Haitian Chamber of Commerce): Of course, it will benefit the Dominican Republic. It's already benefiting, because everything is coming up through here. All the shops are selling much more, all supermarkets are selling much more, because everybody who's buying to help Haiti is buying in the Dominican commerce.
BURNETT: Dominicans have long grimly observed Haiti's seemingly endless misfortunes, but in the past week, some have dared to think, perhaps Haiti can rebuild and get a fresh start, and things will be different this time. Because in the end, Dominicans know they cannot fully thrive unless their destitute neighbor comes along, too.
As they say here, the island of Hispaniola is a bird with two wings, a marriage without divorce.
John Burnett, NPR News, Santo Domingo.
MONTAGNE: Our coverage of the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake continues at npr.org. You will find photos, the latest on relief and security efforts and information on how to help.
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