People with disabilities face unique challenges in any environment, but imagine dealing with those challenges in a post-earthquake Haiti.
Even now, two years after the 2010 quake, rubble blocks many of the roads and walkways; homes and businesses that were destroyed or damaged are not yet rebuilt or repaired; and, although the numbers have greatly decreased, many men, women, and children are still living in tent cities. With so many people in need, those with disabilities, who face some of the greatest challenges, are often overlooked.
“A number of people in society ignored them, but they can no longer—due to the earthquake you can no longer exclude the disabled,” Horlna Pierre, administrator of Service Chretien d’Haiti, said. “As a developing world, we have a lack of human resources. We are a country that cannot afford to lose our ‘human capital.’ The disabled have an important role to play in society.”
The need for more support is why the Presbyterian Haiti Response Team (HRT) decided to provide $519,000 to fund long-term partner Church World Service’s work with Service Chretien d’Haiti. The Haitian group is focused on helping people with disabilities, and CWS understands the importance of partnering with Haitian-based organizations.
“What many people don’t understand is that there are strong community leaders all across Haiti,” Donna Derr, director of the CWS Emergency Response Program, said. “There is just often a gap between these community leaders and government.”
Service Chretien d'Haiti has a history of effective community work. Its leaders and staff have been helping people with disabilities since before the earthquake, thanks in part to the support of Church World Service.
SCH employs about two dozen monitors (see above group photo) who work directly with disabled business owners to address any issues that may arise. Funding to train the monitors was provided through CWS. That training was especially vital when the 2010 disaster created a new set of difficulties for those working in the field.
“It is a really hard job we’re doing. At first, the disabled people did not trust us. There were others who had approached them and used them for their own profit,” Olgens Toussaint, SCH monitor, said. “Then the earthquake [hit and] we had so much trouble finding them. Some died and others moved. There was no way to track them.”
“We divided into six groups so each group could focus on certain areas. It took a lot of time,” Toussaint continued. “We were only equipped with a list in our hands to find people, but we found them and new people in need.”
“As we met with those who suffered from new and old disabilities, it was a challenge to talk openly about all the topics they needed to address so they could feel whole again even without an arm or a leg,” Pierre added.
As part of their training, the monitors are educated in how to run a business, are taught sign language, and learn about the unique psychology of disabled people so they can provide psychosocial support.
“I visit them [the disabled] in their home and talk about what they do and how they are,” Edward Eddy, a SCH monitor, told us. “We teach them how to keep their business going. We also talk about self-esteem and to value their own lives. We comfort them in the way we would comfort our brothers or sisters.”
“They themselves [the disabled] have withdrawn from society because society was denying support,” Ernst Abraham, Executive Secretary, SCH, told us. “They leave their families because they expect to be put out. We must reintegrate these people into society.”
In Haitian culture, a disability was long seen as a curse, but because so many were injured in the earthquake some of the old superstitions are dying out. Those at SCH see that as an opportunity for change.
“We must move from integration to inclusion,” Jacques N. Muscadin, a member of SCH, said. “Inclusion is more than a person standing next to us. Each person is also participating by living among us and taking part, going to school, and contributing to our society and community.”
Meet the business owners
In the two years since the disaster, SCH has provided psychosocial support for the disabled, monthly financial support for 1,200 beneficiaries, capital to repair or restart the businesses of 573 disabled business owners, and other help in response to the miscellaneous needs of another 300 people with disabilities.
In addition, the positive effects of the “people with disabilities program” are multiplied because many of the business owners are able to send their children to school and provide jobs for other Haitians.
“I love Service Chretien d’Haiti! God sent them to me,” Sainte Elaine Cimus, a Haitian store owner, said. “I was selling peanuts and could not continue. The money God sent me through them made it possible for me to do better.”
The funds provided to business owners can be used to improve and grow their business or to pay for their physical and emotional needs. For Cimus, that meant getting help with the pain she suffered in her leg. She is now able to work and support herself and her two sons.
“I could hardly walk, but now with therapy I feel better and can run my store,” she told us. “If I met these people who donated, I would ask God to protect their lives and work with them in all they do.”
John Rony Teudy is another business owner benefitting from SCH’s program. He works as a barber in a small shop that he owns. His left leg is lame and gets a little sore, but he doesn’t mind standing all day.
“It is a gift to be able to do this and work for myself. I love doing this. I love it a lot. It would be hard for me to leave and do something else,” he told us. “If not for [SCH], I could not do this. They bought me chairs and mirrors.”
Teudy makes about $12.50 to $15.00 a day doing 6 to 10 haircuts. It’s enough to support himself, his wife, and his two–year-old son. Teudy had a message to all who supported him directly and indirectly:
“I am happy and thank Jesus for the people who helped me without having ever met me. So, I hope God will help and watch over each one of them.”