PORTLAND – Haitian music filled the air in Payson Park, greeting more than 300 people who participated in a run and walk Saturday to benefit Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership.

Maine Walks for Haiti, in its second year, raised about $25,000 this year, logistics and outreach coordinator Danny Muller said. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Portland-based aid group that works to improve health care in northern Haiti.

“So many people here care deeply about what happens in Haiti,” said Konbit Sante Executive Director Nate Nickerson.

Nickerson, who is traveling to Haiti today, said even though the earthquake that devastated the country in January 2010 has faded from the headlines, the people of Haiti still need aid.

The organization is in the final stages of building a spinal cord injury rehabilitation facility for those injured during the earthquake, Nickerson said. An infrastructure team will also head to Haiti in July to focus on improving water access and sanitation to help prevent cholera.

When the cholera epidemic began, Nickerson said they were seeing nearly 600 cases a day in Cap-Haitien. Those figures are down to about 60 a day now, but with the country’s rainy season starting he fears the numbers will increase.

Amanda Similien participated in Saturday’s events. She spent time in Haiti as a member of the Peace Corps and feels ongoing support is crucial.

“People don’t realize there’s a large Haitian population in Maine, and with Haiti being so close to the United States, they’re our neighbors. Any way we can help them, we help ourselves,” she said.

Polly Larned, a retired nurse and member of Konbit Sante’s board, said going to Haiti as a volunteer made her realize how much the Haitian people need.

“You have to go to a country to really understand its struggles,” she said.

Charlot Lucien, also a member of the organization’s board, gave a storytelling performance Saturday with his children Malaika and Sebastien. Originally from Haiti, Lucien now lives in Norwood, Mass.

“I am amazed by what I see here in terms of the number of people, the diversity of participants and by the community,” he said. “There’s a sense of connectedness among the people, regardless of geography, racial or logistical barriers.”

The run and walk around Back Cove was followed by festivities, with Haitian music and storytelling to celebrate the event.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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