By Christine Ennulat
Way back in college, I went to Haiti for six weeks on an interdenominational mission trip. Our team lived in an orphanage outside of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti’s northern coast, where our task for the summer was to add a second floor to a building in an orphanage.
The children were always around, but I remember in particular four little boys — Roro, Antoine, Roger and tiny Delice. They were a pack, always smiling, always curious about what this group of giant, sweating teenagers was up to.
I remember their throwing rocks into trees to knock down mangos and the insanely sour, thick-skinned grapefruit that I loved. I remember them looking on, grinning, as we toiled and complained while washing what must have seemed our overabundance of clothes at the orphanage’s well. I remember their small, rain-slick faces peering into the sick tent, where I suffered in quarantine with some unpleasant stomach ailment as a small river rushed past my air mattress, and Roro’s asking, “Ou malade?”
Roro was my favorite. He had twinkle to spare, and he and Delice seemed to have a special bond. I thought it was nice that the older boy looked out for the younger with such obvious care.
A few weeks into our stay, I had learned enough Creole to find out that the boys were not 8 or 9 years old, as I’d thought, but 11. All of them — including Delice, whose head reached Roro’s shoulder, and whom I’d thought was maybe 5 or 6. But as I thought about him and paid more attention, I recognized his more sober, angular countenance was at odds with his birdlike, stunted body.
When I asked the minister who ran the orphanage about his story, I learned that Delice’s mother had left him there as a toddler, and that he had been severely malnourished, which was the reason he was so small. He would grow more, but he would always be small.
Now, decades later, as I explore ChildFund’s work so that I can do my job of writing about it, I often learn hard truths. In researching our Early Child Development programs, I’ve learned about the importance of nutrition in a child’s development — physical, cognitive, behavioral and more. The other day, I ran across a widely quoted nugget from Carl Sagan, from a statement he made to Congress in 1994:
“When there isn’t enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead.”
For Delice, his body’s “decision” was outwardly obvious. There’s no way to know about the rest of it — what losses he may have had in his learning or social capacities — but, remembering his eyes and his demeanor, I’m pretty sure he was able to hold his own.
I like to think that Delice was one of the comparatively lucky ones — that, with the care he received in the orphanage and with a friend like Roro, he found his way in the world and has lived a productive, satisfying life.
What I know for sure, though, is that the world is too full of 11-year-olds who look like 6-year-olds and too many children who don’t survive malnutrition to reach age 5 ― children whose potential has been stolen by malnutrition and other effects of poverty. And that’s why ChildFund’s work to turn this around for children is so important.
by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator
With a grant from ChildFund, Physicians for Peace, The Red Thread Promise and many local partners worked tirelessly to host the camp at Kaliko Beach several hours outside of Port-au-Prince.
Children and young adults gathered to enjoy dance, art, sports and classes on personal hygiene. What made this day camp different was that the participants were blind, deaf, amputees or paraplegic. These children and young adults, most of whom were born in Port-au-Prince, had never been in a swimming pool, let alone the ocean. Many had never had the opportunity to fly a kite, skip rope, enjoy a piece of key-lime pie or play basketball.
Late one afternoon a volunteer from the Red Thread Promise and I were helping Moise, a young adult at the camp, try to shoot a basket. The volunteer stationed herself on the right side of the court and I stationed myself on the left. Moise threw the ball. It was close, but it didn’t go in the net. Moise threw the ball again. It hit the rim.
Moise continued to attempt to make a basket, and each time it just didn’t go in the net. The volunteer and I would chase the ball and bring it back to Moise. Time passed from late afternoon to early evening. We both asked Moise if he wanted to continue trying to make the basket. He said he did. We reminded him that it was getting near dinner time. He still wanted to try to make a basket. He would not give up.
If Moise was not willing to give up, at the risk of missing dinner and the evening social activities, then the two of us would not give up either. Making the basket was important.
I’m really not certain how many times we chased the basketball. It may have been 125 or 200, but Moise finally did make that basket. And when we all gathered for the social activities after dinner, Moise shared with other campers his experience of not giving up.
His perseverance was humbling.
Guest post by Mary Anne Kramer-Urner, PT
Mary Anne Kramer-Urner, PT, recently spent two weeks at the Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles, Haiti, volunteering with Physicians for Peace alongside her husband and fellow physical therapist, Dave, and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Sage. ChildFund awarded Physicians for Peace a $500,000 grant to support the organization’s work in Haiti, providing custom-fitted prosthetics, medical equipment and numerous other services.
Alexis a skilled prosthetic technician who takes great care when working on the various sockets and limbs that he is involved with.
He was at the clinic the first time I volunteered there for Physicians for Peace in 2010. He was just learning the trade then. Over the course of year, he’s clearly advanced his skills, and is now much more confident and capable.
On one particular occasion, I remember how he handled a small, delicate socket. He had to smooth the edges on the sander, but needed to be very precise because the socket liner was so small, and the plastic thin. He worked the rim of the liner into the proper shape, taking the time needed to get just what was desired. He obviously wanted to make sure that the patient was comfortable when wearing this very important piece of equipment.
Alex takes great pride in his work, and always makes sure that whatever limb he is responsible for works well. He has a great attitude, and it’s clear that he enjoys working with the patients and therapists, along with prosthetists and other technicians. He is developing into a very skilled clinician, and is an important member of the prosthetic team at the Hanger/HAS clinic.
It’s also clear that he is happy to be able to provide this important healthcare service to the amputees in his country and community.
I met TCho last year, just a few weeks after the earthquake. He was one of four prosthetic technicians chosen to learn this important skill at the Hanger/HAS clinic, and he was eager for a chance to learn this new, important skill. And, learn it he did!
While we were in Haiti, TCho was eager to help whenever a prosthetic technician was needed. He listened attentively, observed the patient with me, if needed, and made whatever adjustments were needed to allow the patient to walk better and more comfortably. I appreciated that he didn’t quit until the desired outcome was achieved.
TCho really connected with people, and developed patients’ trust easily as he worked with them. When returning patients came in for adjustments, or when new patients came in to be casted, I could always count on him to help with whatever was needed. He is a stable force in the clinic, and I felt lucky to be able to work with him.
It’s important to continue the prosthetic technician training program as it allows the local people to learn the skills needed to serve the needs of the Haitian amputee community for years to come!
This patient had had a stroke, right around or during the earthquake, which left him with right hemiplegia and almost no verbal speech. Dave worked with him every day until he finally achieved enough strength and coordination to be able to manage the above knee prosthesis with his hemi side. Quite a feat!
This little guy was about 5 years old. He came into the clinic with a broken heel component. Once his foot was fixed, he just trotted off, kicking the soccer ball.
These young men had above the knee amputations. Both of them were about 18 years old, and both were very sweet.
Guest post by Sue Klappa, PT, Ph.D., via Physicians for Peace
Physicians for Peace is a founding member of the Haitian Amputee Coalition and the grateful recipient of a $500,000 grant from ChildFund International. That grant, and support from individual donors and other partners, helps fund our work in Haiti.
I have just returned for my second tour of service with Physicians for Peace here at the Hanger Clinic in Dechapelles, Haiti. (My first mission was in October 2010.) We have completed our first of two weeks here, and I use this blog to reflect on what has occurred since my last trip to Haiti.
At the clinic, the staff and I had a wonderful reunion. Several patients from last fall had also come by for adjustments and it was great to see them as well. It is wonderful to see the staff at the clinic taking on such ownership of their roles as prosthetic technicians, office coordinator and translators. They are a great crew who are eager to learn and serve the people of their country!
This last week we were able to work with several interesting patients. One of the patients was a small boy named Baby B. He was eight months old when the earthquake hit Haiti in January of 2010. He had been buried under the rubble for six days and was found only when crews were going in to remove bodies of those who had perished. Baby B was pulled from the rubble and sustained only a small wound on his leg.
Unfortunately, the wound became infected and his leg was amputated below the knee three days later, rendering Baby B to amputee status. He is now 23 months old and had never been able to pull himself to stand and cruise or take his first steps on two feet because of these unfortunate circumstances.
Baby B’s mom was very involved and interested in his care. She described the hopes and dreams she had for her son in our initial evaluation. She wanted him to be like any other boy. She wanted him to be successful in school and life. She wanted people to see him for who he was and not for his disability. She wanted him to be able to fully participate in life here in Haiti.
The prosthetists had completed making his little leg and we were all excited to see what Baby B would make of it all. Would he adapt well to it or would he reject it? We all gathered around as Baby B’s mom was taught how to don and doff the little leg.
At first, Baby B looked a bit puzzled at his new leg. Then he broke into his exploratory mode! Baby B moved into a “bear walking” position with his hands and feet on the floor and his bum up in the air. We rolled him a ball and up went his hands on the ball, still with his feet on the floor and his bum in the air. One of the prosthetists encouraged Baby B to kick the ball. Baby B put his hands down on the floor and then cleverly kicked the ball sideways from his bear-walk position!
We then encouraged Baby B to stand up, which he easily did with a look of awe on his face. Baby B was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together! He then began to play with the bubbles we blew his way and took his first steps on two feet! He kicked balls. He blew bubbles. He colored on the walls of the Hanger Clinic!
Then we went out walking, up and down ramps and stairs. No problem for this boy! It was time for a great challenge, that of walking the rugged terrain outside the clinic. Off we went! Several goats and a big pig ran by. There were also several chickens and roosters! Now this was community reintegration! Baby B began to chase the goats! “Cabrit! (Goats!)” he called as he chased after them. With his new prosthesis, Baby B was now all boy. On the way back to the clinic, Baby B stopped to say, “Poo-poo cabrit! (Goat poo-poo!)” He was warning his mom and me not to step in it! He was definitely a charmer! Later, after lunch, Baby B slept for a good three hours! Clearly it was a good day in Haiti!
At the end of the week, when it was time for Baby B and his mom to return to Port-au-Prince, we were excited to see him regain his mobility but also a little bit sad to see him go. He inspired the other amputees with his many funny antics, and they him. Baby B will return to the clinic several times in the coming year as he grows and needs modifications or a new prosthesis. The technicians do certainly look forward to seeing him again, and it is clear what a difference the Haitian staff here is making in the lives of their countrymen!
by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator
I just returned from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where I witnessed a magical moment with children.
ChildFund has been supporting partner organizations on the ground in Haiti since shortly after the destructive earthquake in January 2010. The country is working to recover, but the day-to-day reality for children remains harsh. Most children lack safe places to play. In Port-au-Prince, any open spaces are filled with rubble and children must play in concrete lots, often near busy streets.
As I arrived at our partner’s office, I watched as the children were lined up. Something was up, but they were not sure quite what. As is common for 5- to 8-year-old children, they were restless. Suddenly, the children screamed with delight as two of the instructors emerged from the building carrying a big blue rug. Many of the children began to dance with excitement. The soft blue rug was spread across the hard concrete, creating a space for the children to play. They wasted no time removing shoes and scampering onto the lush carpeting. They could play freely, without thought to getting scraped or bruised. The smiles were almost instant.
From an Early Childhood Development perspective, the rug provided three benefits:
The ecstatic reaction to this rug reminded me again of the importance of play in a child’s life. Playing freely without fear of being harmed is important to healthy child development.
For me, the big blue rug reinforced the importance of ChildFund’s work with our partners in Haiti. I was heartened that amidst all the post-reconstruction work we’re helping fund, we’re also supporting the equally important work of helping children play again.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, and Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers (USAF, Ret.), president and CEO of Physicians for Peace
“If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.” —African proverb
In the Artibonite Valley of Haiti, on the grounds of Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, you’ll find an unassuming clinic dedicated to prosthetic and rehabilitation services for amputees. Patients make the 60-mile trip from Port-au-Prince to the Hanger Clinic balanced aboard vans, mopeds and tap taps, those colorful buses and pick-ups that ferry travelers along Haiti’s famously uneven roads. Many of these patients lost a limb in the earthquake of January 2010; others have been waiting for a prosthesis for years. Even before the earthquake, Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country, was not equipped to provide adequate healthcare services to its disabled population. When the earthquake struck, need for these services increased dramatically.
Hanger Clinic is just one site that is benefitting from a new partnership between ChildFund International and Physicians for Peace. The clinic is actually a product of the Haitian Amputee Coalition, a confederation of organizations including Physicians for Peace, Albert Schweitzer Hospital, the Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, the Harold and Kayrita Anderson Foundation and the Shepherd Center, among other groups. Because of these strong partnerships, the clinic today is a place where patients receive proper medical and rehabilitative care, along with art therapy, meals, lodging, a sense of community and a reason for hope. The clinic also is a training ground for Haitian technicians, who learn valuable professional skills alongside both U.S. prosthetists from Hanger Orthopedic Group and volunteer physical therapists from Physicians for Peace.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed in Haiti, but efforts at the clinic are making a difference. Since the earthquake, Physicians for Peace volunteers have worked with more than 785 patients. Put another way, because of the clinic, more than 785 Haitian amputees can now return to the daily work of their lives, and the Haitian technicians working on-site have the opportunity to earn a living, without leaving behind their country and their families.
These are important milestones; yet these “good news” stories can sometimes be lost. That’s a shame. Because while complicated issues of health, politics, infrastructure and accountability remain in Haiti, our experiences have only reinforced the belief that strategic nongovernmental organization (NGO) partnerships can play a leadership role in paving the road for sustainable, replicable solutions, in Haiti and beyond.
As Physicians for Peace and ChildFund International mark World Health Day on April 7, we are focused on crafting exactly those kinds of partnerships and solutions. Our efforts already are bringing about results. Four months ago, ChildFund International presented a $500,000 grant to Physicians for Peace to support and expand standing efforts at the Hanger Clinic, including volunteer physical therapy missions, and facilitate new initiatives, such as a summer camp for disabled children and tuition support toward a national prosthetics and orthotics training and certification program for Haitian technicians. By combining our resources, we are able to take on additional projects, reduce inefficiencies and help to eliminate redundancies in services and programs. In doing so, we can respond more effectively to our in-country partners’ needs, and we can more efficiently steward our donors’ investments.
Coming together to work in Haiti has been a natural fit for Physicians for Peace and ChildFund International. Our initial approaches may be different, but they are also complementary: ChildFund International works toward a future where all children have the potential to become leaders who bring positive change for those around them. Physicians for Peace envisions a future in which men, women and children around the world have full and equal access to quality healthcare services. In the end, we are both working toward a healthier world, a place where people are afforded the opportunity to live with dignity, respect and good health. When we come together for that purpose, everyone benefits.
As we celebrate World Health Day – from our offices in Norfolk and Richmond, Va., and through field offices and volunteer teams in Asia, Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean – we’ll keep close to our hearts a Haitian expression often repeated to Physicians for Peace volunteers at the Hanger Clinic: “piti, piti, zwazo fe nich.” Little by little, the bird builds its nest. Through collaboration and partnerships that prioritize need over ego, we can work together to build a world that is better, safer and healthier.
Guest post by Physicians for Peace
A physical therapist from The Gait Center in Richmond, Va., will put her skills to work this spring at an amputee clinic in Haiti. Kirstin Anderson, DPT, is volunteering in Haiti on behalf of Physicians for Peace, an international nonprofit that sends physical therapists to work with amputees and disabled patients at the Hanger Amputee Clinic at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles. Her mission is funded by a recent grant from ChildFund International.
“I’ve wanted to do something like this since I was 15 years old,” says Anderson, who was inspired as a teen by the medical volunteer work of family members. “It’s always been about finding the right time, and the right fit. I’ve been working at the Gait Center for a year now, and because many of our patients are amputees, that’s given me much more confidence in my abilities.”
At the clinic in Deschapelles, Anderson will work with a team of healthcare professionals, including prosthetists, to provide care to patients. While many of the patients lost a limb in the earthquake, others have been waiting for a prosthesis for years.
Between March and November 2010, Physicians for Peace volunteer physical therapists contributed more than 1,700 hours of service to Haiti’s disabled population. In that time, they completed more than 1,300 patient visits and helped 635 amputee patients learn to “walk free” with new prosthetic limbs.
Guest post by Physicians for Peace
In February, Virginia Beach, Va., native Jake McCrowell was one of our volunteer physical therapists at the Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles, Haiti. Jake volunteered in Haiti for two weeks. While he was there, he helped discharge 14 patients and provided two, one-hour training sessions to Haitian technicians working at Hospital Albert Schweitzer.
Earlier this year, ChildFund International generously awarded Physicians for Peace, based in Norfolk, Va., a $500,000 grant to support our work in Haiti, including volunteer physical therapy missions.
Jake stopped by our office to report back on his mission and he was kind enough to share these patient stories. His reflections, and his photos, follow.
Jean Baptiste was an earthquake victim. He worked so hard because he knew that his family needed him. All of the patients understand that once they get those flesh-tone covers, they’re almost ready to go. He kept on asking me, “When do I get my covers?” He wanted to be back home, with his family, so much.
Oscar Pierre taught me his own unique handshake. He was a bilateral above-the-knee amputee – which means he had to do an absurd amount of work to walk. Honestly, in the U.S., with that little leg remaining, I’m not sure the patient would walk again. I have this vivid memory of Oscar Pierre. We were working on fall recovery. I put him down on the floor and he pulled himself up on the first try. It was a lot of work, but he did it. We were all in disbelief. I’ll never see anything like that again.
Here I am with Angela, a prosthetist from Denver representing Hanger Orthopedic Group. This little boy hadn’t ever had a prosthetic leg before. With kids, I learned that you have to make the therapy into play. We played soccer together. He could move pretty quickly!
Bilateral above the knees are hard to fit. This patient was a wonderful woman. At the clinic, patients have a lot of time to watch others receiving therapy. This lady spent a lot of time observing. You could tell she’d been paying close attention. She picked things up really fast.
Guest post by Annie LePere
Annie LePere completed her master’s of public health while working for the Child Sponsorship department of ChildFund International. She was a community educator for the Sexual Assault Response Program in Lynchburg, Va., for three years before leaving to be a full-time mother. She recently returned from a volunteer mission trip to Haiti.
We were sitting under a mango tree when a young girl came by carrying a five-gallon bucket. She walked over to the community well and filled it. Balancing the full bucket on top of her head with one hand, she walked away. Then she came back and did it again. The third time she came back, we jumped in to help.
I was in Grand Goave, Haiti, about 10 miles from the epicenter of the massive earthquake that struck in January. I had joined a medical mission team from Bedford, Va., to use my background in community health and past experience working at ChildFund.
Rubble and trash still litter the streets, bridges are still impassable and tents are still up as far as the eye can see. In a country familiar with disasters, the earthquake has become another speed bump on the road to progress. People walk around the piles of rubble, trucks drive through the river and families have turned their tents into homes.
Yet, sadly, for many children living in Haiti, childhood has been lost. It was lost for the 8-year-old girl carrying water. It was lost for the 16-year-old young mother bringing her toddler to our clinic. It was lost for baby Woodley, a 4-day-old infant who had nothing to drink but water because his mother was unable to care for him.
Despite all of these hardships, it’s hard to break the spirit of a child and we found evidence of that spirit. It was there in the toddlers waving and shouting “ay oo!” as our truck drove by. It was there in the group of boys playing soccer. It was there in the teenage girl studying chemistry and planning to become a doctor. Schools were meeting in tents, under trees or in a room with three walls. At night, dedicated children would do their homework under the light of a solar-powered streetlight.
The biggest need identified by the mission was sanitation. With no running water other than a community well and people living on every available patch of land, families have to work hard to stay healthy. My background is in violence prevention, not sanitation. But I knew that ChildFund has an excellent track record in this area so I called for help.
Thus, I arrived in Haiti with an instruction manual for implementing the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) program developed to help community educators teach their peers how to treat and protect water. I had planned to teach some basic information about hand washing and walk the medical coordinator through the program to implement at a later date. But the day before I arrived, a cholera outbreak was identified. With this threat looming, I became the community educator. I was asked first thing on a Monday morning to speak to school children, and throughout the week I gave classes to parents.
Without the WASH materials, I would have been unprepared. As it turns out, the way to prevent cholera is to use the WASH techniques. Cholera is a scary disease, and every Haitian I spoke with was scared. But it can be prevented by treating and protecting the water supply and by washing hands. As of the mid-November, there were no cases of cholera reported from Grand Goave. So far, this area appears to have survived another challenge.
In teaching school children about hand washing, I played a game with them to show how germs spread. I filled my hand with glitter, touched a few children and had them touch their friends. At the end of the exercise we were all covered in sparkles.
Now back home in Virginia, I recently picked up my dusty backpack from the trip and was showered with glitter. I haven’t cleaned it up yet because it reminds me of the tenacity of the Haitian people. And it reminds me of hope that can be found in disaster — hope that springs from baby Woodley and his mom, who are now in the care of an aunt and, at last report, are progressing.
More than eight months after an earthquake devastated Haiti, ChildFund’s support for the country’s most vulnerable children continues apace.
In our work through CBM and the Centre d’Education Speciale (CES), we are seeing signs of progress as children return to school and families adapt new routines. Much work remains amid Haiti’s decimated infrastructure.
Yet, there are bright spots. Day care centers for children with injuries and disabilities are operating in six hard-hit areas around Port-Au-Prince. Children attending the centers now have access to therapy, follow-up care and referrals to other health professionals when needed.
Continuing care is especially important for children with epilepsy to ensure regular access to medication. Since last March, a pediatrician and a neurologist have visited one of the centers once a week. Since May a speech therapist has been available twice a week.
In addition, CES has been able to open its doors to other children without disabilities yet in need of a safe haven. Six-year-old Lovely was a student of the College Mixte Evangelique d’Haiti, which collapsed during the earthquake. She lost many friends.
Lovely’s mother Evna reports that her daughter has made academic progress at the CES center despite the sad circumstances following the earthquake. During those terrifying moments, Evna and Lovely ran out of the house and spent all day in the street.
Lovely’s father used to have a little shop, but all of his merchandise was stolen after the quake. Evna, who had worked as a street vendor, had to stop her commerce activities and devote all of her time to taking care of her three children.
The opening of the child center has provided a safe place for the children to play and learn while Evna and her husband find work and earn money for food and necessities.
It is a hard existence but Lovely and her family have hope for better days.