Saturday, July 12, 2014
It is almost time to head home from Haiti. We are staying only a week this time due to the constraints of limited vacation time to use and a son accompanying me who has a summer job. Last night we went to visit a patient that I met on my first visit to Haiti.
Anese lost her L leg below the knee after the earthquake. She was 6 and a half months pregnant at the time. After teaching her to walk with her prosthesis she told me she was going to name her baby “Ann”. When she had a son, I got a phone call asking me what to name him. I told her to name him “something that means grace” since that is what Ann means and she chose Isaac. I have been able to keep track of Anese & Isaac through my Haitian friend Billy who looks in on them for me and has helped to make arrangements for me so that I could pay for some of the cost of Isaac’s preschool.
I hired a driver to take my son Jesse, Billy and I to Anese’s home. For a couple of years after the earthquake she was living in the tent that we managed to find for her once she left the hospital after her amputation. We drove up some very steep and rutted roads past wandering goats, pigs, and chickens, people walking carrying loads on their heads, make shift “stores” by the side of the road, and many curious Haitian’s wondering about the car carrying a couple of white people into their neighborhood.
After being bounced around in the back seat for what seemed like a very long time after getting lost twice, the car finally stopped. We got out near a large red solid metal gate. On the other side of the gate we found a very simple structure made of plywood. We knocked on the door and I was immediately engulfed by a very big hug from Anese. She was smiling from ear to ear.
Her home had been upgraded from a tent by one of the many non-profit aid agencies still present in Haiti. It was the size of a large living room in the US. There is a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. There are no kitchen or bathroom facilities. Anese lives here with her son, Isaac, and her mother. She told me that her husband had left her. I asked if she was working and if not how she spent her days. Since Anese does not have any education and has a very visible disability, I was not surprised to learn that she was not able to find work. She said that she spends most of her days sitting. Isaac looks to be very healthy, and they both seem to be eating well. I am assuming this is due to one of the feeding programs run by an NGO or nongovernmental organization.
Anese showed me all of Isaac’s school pictures, report cards, and completed worksheets. We gave Isaac a very bouncy ball that we had brought for him and I gave Anese a little bit of money. I’m not sure how she is managing to pay for his school. I did notice that his report card said that he had missed many days of school. She told me through Billy that when she was not able to pay for his tuition he was sent home.
I was really happy to be able to see Anese and Isaac again, to see that they are both healthy, to know that she has managed to survive despite all of the challenges. I’m glad that she is no longer living in a tattered tent. I was also sad. Sad that she has to struggle, that she is unable to find work, that Isaac gets sent home from school.
I know that she has not done anything to deserve such a hard life. I can’t help but wonder why my life is so different from hers? What did I do to get so lucky? I don’t have any answers. I can’t fix all that I see here that needs fixing. I can only do the little bit that I can by sharing my professional skills in Haiti, by helping my children to understand that they too are very lucky, by helping to pay for some of the cost of Isaac’s school and by being a friend to Anese and Isaac as best I can from the US.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Back to Haiti for the third time in 4 years. Things that have not changed are the crazy driving conditions, the trash everywhere, the smiles when one says “Bonjou” to a Haitian when walking down the street, and the still present although less high and less frequent piles of rubble from the earthquake. It is actually hard to find a tent city and many of the tent communities seem to have been made more into neighborhoods with at least somewhat less flimsy structures.
The therapy clinic at Global Therapy is now within walking distance to the guesthouse where volunteers stay. The clinic had its grand opening last month. It is a large Green structure open on two sides (with sliding bars to keep out animals and thieves) with ceiling fans, parallel bars, a large therapy mat and one plinth. When we get to the clinic around nine every morning there are patients sitting outside waiting for us. They come first thing in the am and are seen in the order that they come. An appointment system was tried but the patients seem to like their own way of doing it. No one seems the least bit upset about having to wait. They all know that they will have their turn.
Some patients walk to get to us, some come in cars, or on tap taps- a sort of colorful community bus system- and many arrive via motorcycle with anywhere from 2-5 people on them, many times carrying babies or small children as well as people with hemiplegia due to stroke.
This is the most common reason that patients are seen at the clinic, followed by young children with disabilities, and least common people who were injured in the earthquake. I am primarily an orthopedic PT so the neurologic patients and small children are not the typical patients that I see. But having been a PT for 30 years in a variety of settings I still have things to offer them to help them to function better. After three days in the clinic I am spending a lot of time encouraging patients to try to use their hemiplegic arm and hand as much as possible. I saw a woman on Monday whose daughter and son were helping her to get dressed. After assessing her hand it was clear that she could do more. I had her pick up some small objects using a pinch grip. She had no idea that she was capable of this. Today when she came back she told me that she was able to put on her blouse and button it herself! It is these small victories, the charm of the Haitian people, the warmth of the family that runs the guest house, and most of all the chance to make a real difference in at least a few Haitians that keeps me coming back to Haiti.