In Andrew's memory

By Susan Falvella Garraty

Gregory Grene is back in the U.S. after a trip to Haiti where his identical twin, Andrew, was killed in January's devastating earthquake while working for the United Nations.

The Grene family is originally from County Cavan although the brothers and their families have lived for many years in the New York and Chicago areas.

Gregory Grene went to Haiti, along with friend Tim Perutz, after they set up the Andrew Grene Foundation. Grene hopes that by relating the details of the dire circumstances that still exist in Haiti more than six months after the earthquake, that attention will be focused on helping the Haitian people over the long term.

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"There was the part of the trip that was very personal, seeing where my twin died and then the other part of seeing what you can do," said Grene. a musician with the contemporary Irish music group, the Prodigals.

Grene had to go directly to Iowa to play with The Prodigals after returning from Haiti.

"When you're down there, you see there are so many targets of need, it's not like you have to try and find worthwhile projects, it's having to choose amongst so many," Grene told the Echo.

Ultimately, it was decided that the foundation would offer academic scholarships to four Haitian students and also offer micro-credit loans. Grene and Perutz thought of financing the construction of a new school, but felt the building regulations and construction approaches were still in flux.

"We hope what we provide will start small but complex miracles because every student who achieves an education will help form a new generation in Haiti," said Grene.

Grene contended that much of the organization of aid in Haiti suffers bottlenecks as aid groups become pitted against one another. He saw hope, however, in the eyes of Sister Marie France, a Haitian educator.

"All of the teachers from her school, Ecole Christ Roi, were killed in the earthquake, yet she is focused on bringing to these children an education amongst the rubble," he said.

Grene said that everywhere they went in Port au Prince and beyond there remained admiration for the work his brother Andrew did over the past several years while a special assistant for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

More than 60 percent of Haiti's population is illiterate, thus radio is often the most effective means of communication. Grene was asked to cut the ribbon at a new studio named in honor of his brother during his visit.

The outside world has not always been kind to Haiti says Grene. Corruption and years of unemployment and poverty had wrecked the country even before the earthquake. Historically, Grene maintained, international assistance was accompanied by political expectations.
"The image of the U.S. selflessly supporting Haiti has not always been accurate," he said.

What isn't as widely known, he said, is that many Haitians spend up to 45 percent of the entire family's income on education expenses and that even though the majority of Haitians can't read or write, there was an overwhelming desire for that to change.

The children in Sister Marie France's school will sit their national exams in a couple of weeks. Once the results are in, the Andrew Grene Foundation will select its scholarship winners.

Although loath to offer only short term solutions and determined to spend money with their heads and not their hearts, before leaving Haiti, Grene paid for the lunches for the students of Ecole Christ Roi until the end of the term next month.

"We want them to do well on their exams, and lunch is often the only meal they'll get," he said.