Prestigious Award Granted to Gena Heraty, NPH Haiti
Gena is the first recipient of the William Jefferson Clinton Goodwill for Haiti Award.
March 3, 2012 - Haiti
Gena Heraty feels just at home in the highlands of Kenscoff, Haiti as she does in her native Mayo, Ireland. For 18 years, Gena has been working in Haiti providing relief and a home to 33 mentally and physically disabled children who are either orphaned or whose parents cannot support them. These children, which Gena refers to as ‘my kids’, range in ages and severity of illness. The one thing they all have in common is their love for this Irish woman. Surprisingly, in the hills above Port-au-Prince, it is not just Gena that these children base their lives around but two other Irish women Jacinta McGuane (Dublin) and Liz Lawn (Donegal) who are both spending two years in Kenscoff volunteering to educate the children. They live and work with over 400 orphans, caregivers and support staff in Kay St. Helene. Jacinta and Liz teach eight boys and two girls ranging in age from eight years to 17 years of age.
Gena is the Director of Special Needs Programs with the charity Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs (Our Little Brothers and Sisters) Haiti and spends her days working in their two services in Port-au-Prince. In 2004 Gena started offering outpatient services to disabled children in one of the many slums of Port-au-Prince. Since then these services have been formalized to provide assistance to disabled children and support for the mothers so they can develop the tools to care for their children and not abandon them. A walk round a state of the art center in Tabarre, called St. Germaine, is full of children and grateful parents, highlight the demand for these services. Most of the children are suffer from severe nuerological disabilities. St. Germaine programs include a special education school for 80 students, meal program, physical and occupational therapy and physical therapy for adults suffering from stroke.
Gena was not unaffected by the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Many of her friends and colleagues died. But for Gena, her work continues. She believes that if she can improve the life of just one child each day, her life will have been worthwhile. The many Irish volunteers who have made the trip to Haiti feel the same. Jacinta describes just a few of the mentally and physically disabled children she works with:
- Joseph, of the soft hands who loves sitting in the sunshine watching the clouds go by, taking you for walks and laughing.
-Cleevens, who loves football and likes to practice his English with you every time he sees you.
- Yvonne and her handbag, she loves to give rib crushing hugs and tease.
- Gladimir who has been promoted from student to my classroom assistant, he has great patience and wants to improve his English. He knits scarves to sell to the visitors who come to visit and forget their winter woollies.
These are just a few of the hundreds of children who are disabled and orphaned in Haiti. Thankfully Gena’s work has helped ease the suffering for many but the challenges continue. Most children in Haiti do not having access to regular healthcare, let alone the specialised care required so that their families are not left in a position where abandoning their children is the only option.
Haiti Week, which was announced in Dublin by President Bill Clinton last October, aimed to raise funds and awareness for Haiti and highight the challenges still facing the country two years after the catastrophic earthquake. The organisers of the week aimed to highlight the sizeable role that Ireland is playing in Haiti’s recovery and development through the many personal, NGO and corporate connections to this struggling country with huge potential.
Haiti Week ran throughout Ireland from January 21st to the 28th , 2012. The highlight of Haiti Week the visit to Ireland by the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who was elected and assumed office in May 2011. President Martelly’s visit was the first ever by a President of Haiti to Ireland.
Haiti Week culminated with the Haiti Ball, in the Four Seasons Hotel on January 27, 2012 where the recipient of the inaugural William Jefferson Clinton Goodwill for Haiti Award was Gena Heraty.
Congratulations Gena on your 18 years of service with NPFS Haiti and to all the lives you have touched throughout the years.
Contributed from Haiti Week press release
edited by Monica Gery, Information Offices