When the earth started to “shake like waves” and the walls of his Port-au-Prince house began to crumble, Serge Royal gathered his wife and three children and made them grab onto a tree, the parents shielding their children from falling debris.
“I just wanted to make sure my kids were safe,” Royal said.
A year after the Jan. 12 quake, and miles from his family’s homeland, that protective instinct has not dimmed though Royal grows increasingly frustrated that he cannot provide more for his family in their new home of Oakland Park.
“I am the husband, the chief of my family. In Haiti, I had my own house, insurance that covered the whole family,” Royal said. “I was able to give my family what they needed ...I would like to do that here if I could find a job.”
The Royals -- Serge, his wife Marie Carol and their three children, Carly, 9, Carl Sergio, 4, and Carla, 1 -- now share a modest two bedroom apartment with another Haitian family.
After the earthquake, Marie Carol was able to catch a humanitarian flight out of Port-au-Prince with Carla, who was only 3 months old, but had been born in the United States.
Weeks later, with just the clothes on their back, Royal gathered Carly and Carl and took a series of buses to the Dominican Republic where they caught a flight to Miami, booked by relatives living in South Florida.
Since the quake, Carl has been suffering through fevers and constant vomiting. He also had a bloody gash on the right side of his face. Upon arriving at Miami International Airport, he was transported to Broward General Medical Center where he was treated for two weeks.
The rest of the family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Lauderdale trading stories and finding comfort with other Haitians.
After Carl’s discharge from the hospital, it didn’t take long for a network of community groups to offer assistance to the family. The Broward-based Minority Development and Empowerment Inc., helped the family find an apartment to share and continues to assist in paying the $400 monthly rent.
While the family remains grateful for the support, Royal said he longs for the day when he is able to provide for his family again.
Three times a week, he takes the bus to Plantation High School where is enrolled in English classes. In Haiti, he worked as a security guard at the U.S. Embassy and recently took a security guard certification course in the hopes of finding work again. His long-term hope is to earn a business administration degree.
“I always tell my children that in education there is power, there is a way for more opportunities,” Royal said.
At least twice a week, he calls relatives still living in tents in Port-au-Prince. He wishes there was more he could do for them.
“I realize that I have been blessed with this opportunity,” Royal said. “There’s no fear here like in Haiti. Here we feel safe.”