Jenny Ulysee was inside her stepmother's hair salon in Mariani, Haiti, when the January 12 earthquake caused a nearby building to buckle and collapse onto the roof of her family's business. Hours later, the 19-year-old Hyde Park resident and youth worker — who was visiting family with her twin brother Jerry, also of Hyde Park — was pulled from a stone pile, her left ankle swollen larger than a mango. After absorbing the physical and mental suffering dealt by the natural disaster — her stepmother and other relatives were killed, and an infant was suddenly left in her care — Ulysee walked and hitchhiked approximately 30 miles to the American embassy in Port-au-Prince. It was there that she received yet another blow: she was told that, as a permanent resident but non-citizen of the US, she would not be able to return home to America
Immediately after she was rescued, "I went to the hospital in the town I'm in to see what they could do about my ankle," Ulysee tells the Phoenix by cell phone from Mariani, where she is sleeping in a church parking lot and scavenging for clean water. "But when I got there, people were just laying on the floor everywhere. I figured there was no point to me even trying to go in and get help when there were so many people who are worse than me."
Ulysee then made an effort to seek medical attention back home in Boston. Though her immigration paperwork was lost in the disaster, she thought that simply knowing her green-card information would be enough to book a flight out. Instead, she reports that US embassy officials at the airport were harsh; on her second attempt to leave Haiti, Ulysee was forcibly removed by an armed guard and told that full-fledged American citizens take precedence.
Now back in rural Mariani, Ulysee is completely out of funds, which makes it nearly impossible for her to return even to Port-au-Prince. There are few aid workers in the small village. She has managed to get money and supplies in exchange for powering people's cell phones with the live electricity line running through her family's home (which is still not structurally sound enough to enter).
In Boston, Jenny's well-connected friends are scrambling to assist her and her brother. City Councilor Chuck Turner, who this past August passed a resolution to honor Jenny for her community work, has tasked office operative and Haitian-American activist Jonathan Regis with keeping constant contact with her. Over at the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, where Ulysee also works as an organizer, Executive Director Horace Small has contacted US Senator John Kerry's office, which has reportedly delivered copies of Jenny and Jerry's documentation directly to the embassy in Port-au-Prince.
"If they have my information there now, like I was told they do, then hopefully I will be set," says Ulysee, who sounds strong despite desperation and frustration. "But I'm still not sure if it will help, since I kept telling them last time that I work with the government. Maybe now they'll call the phone numbers that I give them, but I still don't have any way to get back to the airport."
: This Just In
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