In Haiti, two years
out from the massive 7.0 earthquake that affected more than 3 million
people, the focus has shifted from rescue mode to rebuilding.
ABILITYs Pamela K. Johnson spoke with Elizabeth MacNairn of Handicap International, a non-governmental organization
based in Europe; Keren Odeah Johnson, her sister who works for the United
States Agency for International Development; and Rachelle Salnave, a
Miami-based filmmaker whose documentary, La Belle Vie (The Beautiful
Life), seeks to capture the rich history and fertile culture of this
storied Caribbean island.
MacNairn, Johnson and Salnave all visited Haiti between December 2011
and January 2012, and took time out to share their different experiences.
At a rooftop rehabilitation center in Haitis Petit-Goâve
neighborhood, people whove been fitted with a prosthetic device
after a limb amputation learn how to get back into the swing of life.
Its estimated that between 2000 and 4000 Haitians lost a limb
during the quake, adding to the roughly 800,000 to 900,000 who were
already estimated to have a disability.
By air, Haiti is only a 90-minute flight from Miami, and situated between
Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Along with beautiful beaches, it has rich arts
and music communities, and the distinction of being the first independent
black republic, dating back to 1804. But it continues to wrestle with
poverty, political corruption and natural disaster.
Before the quake, many of the nearly 1 million Haitians who were living
with a disability, such as an amputation, nerve damage or cerebral palsy,
had never received physical therapy, said MacNairn, who is executive
director of Handicap Internationals United States office in Takoma,
In the days following the quake, her organization set up the Functional
Rehabilitation Center in the Champs de Mars area, Port-au-Princes
main park and the site of political power, where many buildings were
As the team began to treat the injured, they discovered that people
with a disability were not only dealing with their physical injuries,
but also with a loss of esteem, said MacNairn, who noted that the Haitian
Creole word for disability is cocobai, which means worthless
or a disgrace. But with training and low-tech assistive
devices, people can feel they have value, and contribute to their
families, she said.
The rehab center staff is charged with creating assistive devices that
help patients with daily tasks. One such invention was a stick with
a scrub brush attached, so a patient could strap it to the leg of a
chair, and then set the chair leg in soapy water and scrub clothes clean
using one arm. Another devicea small wooden board with three nailscan
hold a vegetable in place, while a person cuts it, again using one arm.
Patients and staff at the center sometimes cook a meal together in the
rooftops enclosed kitchen area, breaking bread and forming an
impromptu support group, where they talk about what theyre
experiencing, said MacNairn. They also share nutrition and hygiene
MacNairn first traveled to Haiti a decade ago, when her husband was
the assistant country director of Catholic Relief Services. Five years
later, she visited quarterly while working on an employment project
there. More recently she returned in February 2010, a month after the
quake, in her role with Handicap International (HI). The NGO is one
of the six founding members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines,
which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. HI had a presence in the
Haiti before the quake with their food-distribution program, but after
the disaster it quickly repurposed its trucks to deliver a range of
needed items, along with treated water, to devastated communities.
We were struck by how some neighborhoods were hardly touched,
while others were totally destroyed, such as the Champs de Mars area,
MacNairn recalled. There was so much destruction, and so much
homelessness. I was particularly struck both by the level of injury,
but also the resilience. People were quickly back to selling things,
trying to survive.
In Haiti, and around the world, HI, works to alleviate the effects of
poverty, exclusion, conflict and disaster. To address the widespread
homelessness created by the Haitian quake, the organization built more
than 1,000 transitional, hurricane- and earthquake-resistant homes,
which are accessible to people with reduced mobility. The shelters are
designed to serve the most vulnerable, and can accommodate more than
5,000 people in both Petit-Goâve and Grand-Goâve, coastal
towns about 40 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince
The shelters are designed to last three years, but are weather resistant
and can potentially last longer, if maintained properly. They have a
wooden framework and walls of woven wooden slats, with a roof designed
to withstand strong winds. The floor is made from a raised concrete
slab, which will protect occupants from humidity during rainy seasons.
The homes are also adaptable, and can include access ramps, wider doors,
special door handles and other accommodations.
Available in modules with a range of surface areas, the shelters are
adaptable to different size families. These prefabricated transitional
shelters were prepared in kits by HI teams, and then transported to
the field and assembled with families not only to foster ownership,
but also to teach some basic repair skills.
When MacNairn first walked up to the rehab center in 2010, she recalled
that it was an empty shell. But upon her recent return visit, it had
blossomed into an incredibly welcoming place, where she
interacted with some individuals whose experiences touched her. Among
them was Katia Eloi, who manages HIs rooftop training program.
She is also an upper-limp amputee and is pregnant with her first
child. We talked about having a baby. It was one of those universal
moments that women share, MacNairn said.
From a previous visit, she remembered a young man named Beriton Merzil,
a 46-year-old amputee below the knee who found his way to us after
the quake, she said. He was traumatizedalthough his
amputation was from a long ago car accidentand initially he just
stayed and talked with others who had just lost a limb in the quake;
he created a very calming presence.
A third individual that MacNairn recognized when she was there recently,
was a young man named Marvens Point du Jour, who had lost his mother
in the quake, and now lives with an adoptive family. Amid the disaster,
he had to have his leg amputated below the knee, which made himfragile
for a time. But now, with his permanent prosthetic, Marvens is up and
running. MacNairn saw him kicking a soccer ball at the rehab center,
and with his mobility restored, he can attend school, which many children
with disabilities cannot.
People with disabilities and the elderly may have delicate support
systems that can be destroyed if someone who cares for them dies or
is injured, MacNairn observed. We try to identify which
communities are most vulnerable in advance, and work with local residents,
area shelters and different organizations, so no one is left behind.....
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from the Hope-Dworaczyk Issue Feb/Mar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum
Rebuilding After the Quake
Dworacyzk An Eclectic Career
Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors
to a Higher Standard
Traveling the World on Two Wheels
Book Excerpts How Do You Use Your Body?
in the Hope Dworacyzk Issue; Humor The Parent Trap; Ashley Fiolek
Teaching the Next Generation of Riders; Eleonora Rivetti
Italian Motocrosser Makes a Pit Stop; Sen. Tom Harkin Keeping
All Students Safe; Haiti Rebuilding After the Quake; Qatar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum; Chris Wells Deaf and
Blind Student Earns PhD; Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors to
a Higher Standard; Documentary Traveling the World on Two Wheels;
Recipes Excerpt From the Forks Over Knives Cookbook; Hope Dworacyzk
An Eclectic Career; Smothers Brothers How They Won a Trip
to Washington; Assistive Golf Jack Nicklaus Designs a Course
for Vets; Book Excerpt How Do You Use Your Body? ; ABILITY's
Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...