Jean-François Lescinel: 'Everyone should say a prayer for Haiti'
Jean-François Lescinel, Swindon Town's Haiti international, is still waiting to hear whether his 11-year-old sister has survived the earthquake. He tells James Corrigan how it feels to watch the disaster from a distance
Tuesday 19 January 2010
Jean-François Lescinel was still waiting at Swindon Town Football Club yesterday, still waiting for the text or the phone call from Haiti that might tell him the nightmare ordeal is over. "My little sister is missing and our family home has been wrecked," he said. "We are praying for some good news."
Lescinel is the only Haiti international playing in British football. The left-back was in his flat he shares with his girlfriend on Tuesday night when reports of the earthquake came through. As the enormity of the devastation began to unfold, frantic calls were made to family members. The one to his mother was particularly fraught. "She had gone home to France on the Sunday and knows how lucky she is," said the 23-year-old. "My mother had gone to Port-au-Prince at the end of November and had taken Erica with her. Erica was due to return home next week."
Erica is 11 years old and is the youngest of Lescinel's six siblings. "Erica was staying at the house of my grandmother, who died last year, with my mother's two sisters and my nephew and niece," he said. "People who live nearby have said the house was wrecked. I spoke to my mum last night and she said she has found out that her sisters are all right and so are my niece and nephew. But there is no news yet on my sister. Nobody there seems to know if anybody was inside the house or not. Nothing has been found in the wreckage yet. So maybe she was outside and maybe she is being looked after by someone who doesn't know her. That is what we're praying for."
It is hard to imagine what Lescinel is going through. It is not just a sister he is missing but also two of his father's three brothers, as well as other relatives. In his broken English, Lescinel confessed the last week has been "very, very hard". The scale of that understatement does not really need explaining. And neither does the state of his emotions.
"I have not seen Erica for two years," he said, the torment obvious in his eyes. "When I last went to see her I said I would come back to see her in the summer. But I didn't go. I'm trying to be positive... When I'm watching the TV they're still finding people. So I just wait for good news."
What is clearly making that wait all the more agonising has been the lack of information. Updates are now dripping through, although understandably not nearly quickly enough for the Lescinel's liking. "We have been calling and texting people who live out there all the time – but nothing," he said, detailing how his other brothers and sisters are all in France. "We've called the Haiti embassy in Britain and in France. But everything we try to do we get little or no news."
Remarkably he has decided to play through the turmoil. The Paris St-Germain trainee came on in Swindon's League One win over Gillingham at the County Ground on Saturday and is expected to start tonight at Stockport. "Every day I'm talking to my family about this and they tell me that I have to focus on my job," said Lescinel, whose career is at a vital stage, with a one-year contract expiring in May. "But that's very hard when it's your little sister."
The Swindon dressing room have assisted as much as possible. "Everybody in this team has been trying to help me, especially the gaffer," said Lescinel. Indeed, Danny Wilson was one of the first to advise him to contact the Haiti embassy. "Of course it's been difficult for him," said the Swindon manager yesterday. "But there's not a great deal he can do right now. He certainly can't go back over there at this moment in time. All he can to do is carry on trying to get in touch with his family. Sometimes football can provide a bit of respite in terrible situations like this; to get on the pitch can take your mind of it a little bit. If he wanted the time off, there's no question he could have it. But he hasn't asked and we have to respect what he wants."
As Wilson says, Lescinel – or "Lesci" as he is known at the club – has indeed found some relief in his profession. But he revealed this relief has been only temporary. "When I play football I forget everything, but when I finish playing football everything comes back," said Lescinel. "So football only helps for about two hours."
Lescinel has spent his evenings tuned in to the news and the pictures have plainly only exasperated his concerns. "They show the dead and the injured being pulled out and it is very shocking," he said. "You can see all the difficulties they have in finding people, the difficulties they have in getting them out and the difficulties they have in treating them. It's hard to take it all in. My country was already very poor, but after this..."
He calls Haiti "my country" even though he has never lived there. He was born in French Guyana and moved to Paris when he was six as his parents searched for work. But like Erica he would enjoy extended holidays in the Haitian capital with his extended family. "When I was in Haiti I saw how many people needed help," he said. "But then I go back to France where everything is good and nice and people are chucking away food in a bin. I think, 'If you were in my country you would never do that'. People didn't realise what my country is like, but now they do."
Lescinel, like many of his countrymen, is managing to take some heart from the exposure of Haiti's problems. "My country has needed help and with this disaster everybody can now see how many are so poor," he said. "With all the help we should now get my country can go forward."
But first Haiti must come through this crisis and Lescinel has urged his adopted town to provide whatever assistance they can. Together with the local Afro-Caribbean association, Swindon Town have set up an aid centre at the ground where people can come and drop off clothing and food parcels. The response has been good as Lescinel hopes it will be all over Britain. "Just give something, give anything." he said. "Even just £1 will help. You can see on the telly that people are fighting for food and that policemen have begun shooting. That shows how bad it is and how desperate people are. Everybody should say a prayer for Haiti and all the people who are suffering and who are missing. They should say a prayer for my sister."
Who is Lescinel?
* Lescinel was born in French Guyana but moved to Paris when he was six. Despite not taking up football until the age of 11 he was signed as a trainee by Paris St-Germain at 15. A big and powerful defender who can play in the centre as well as on the left, he made a number of appearances for the reserves before signing with Sedan in the French second division. After spells in the French lower leagues and Scotland, Lescinel, a full international for Haiti, signed up at Swindon at the end of the 2008-09 season and then extended his contract by another year. So far in this campaign, Lescinel has made 22 appearances.
The world of sport has moved quickly to help the fundraising efforts after last week's Haitian earthquake:
* Zinedine Zidane will feature in an exhibition game next Monday in Lisbon. Kaka, Pavel Nedved, Fernando Hierro and Rui Costa will take part.
* Tennis world No 1 Roger Federer organised an impromptu tennis exhibition which took place ahead of this week's Australian Open and raised £114,000 in total.
* Lance Armstrong has given £153,000 while Tiger Woods has pledged to help via his foundation.
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