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.
ABILITY’s 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 Haiti’s Petit-Goâve neighborhood, people who’ve been fitted with a prosthetic device after a limb amputation learn how to get back into the swing of life. It’s 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 International’s United States office in Takoma, MD.
In the days following the quake, her organization set up the Functional Rehabilitation Center in the Champs de Mars area, Port-au-Prince’s main park and the site of political power, where many buildings were destroyed.
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 device—a small wooden board with three nails—can hold a vegetable in place, while a person cuts it, again using one arm. ...
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