My Haitian Experience So Far

Therapists are working hard with children with severe disabilities every day.
September 2, 2015 - Haiti

Annette with a disabled child at the Special Needs program
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In January 2011, my manager Brenda McLoughlin asked me if I would like to go on a ten day volunteer trip to Haiti with an organization called Soul of Haiti (SoH), and of course I said ‘YES!’ SoH was looking for a physiotherapist that had experience working with children with special needs, the majority of whom had physical disabilities. SoH had been advised to contact the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) to find the support and expertise they were looking for. As it happens, some of the Directors of SoH had first come to visit the CRC in January 2010. While they were sitting in our boardroom, they received a phone call to inform them that Haiti had just suffered a major earthquake. All plans were suddenly changed, but a year later they returned with the same request and Dr. Hensey and I went with them for the first time.

The Soul of Haiti Foundation has come a long way since the initial trip of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists in 2007. Since its establishment, the Foundation and its members have been working to create new businesses and a better future for the people of Haiti. Following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, the challenge has become even greater. The Soul of Haiti Foundation is committed to leveraging entrepreneurial/business skills and an ability to organize to help the social and economic circumstances in Haiti.

In 2007, some of the Directors of the Soul of Haiti Foundation visited Œuvre St François D’Assise Orphanage & School and immediately knew that this would be one of their core projects. The orphanage is in a village called Madame Bernard on the island of Ile a Vache, which is off the South coast of Haiti. It is run by a Franciscan nun, Sr. Flora, and is home to 70 children, 30 of whom are physically or mentally disabled. Sr. Flora also runs the village primary school where close to 400 children are taught daily. Upon first visiting the orphanage, they were struck by the poor living conditions of the children and staff. The lack of funding and resources available to Sr. Flora was evident, as were signs of other organizations failed attempts at renovating the facilities. (Information taken from www.soulofhaiti.ie)

I have now traveled with SoH on four occasions to volunteer at Sr. Flora’s orphanage. It has been challenging and inspiring to work with the children, staff and the other volunteers and I have made many friends along the way. Since my first trip, other people from the CRC have become involved in providing basic training and support to the staff that care for the children with special needs.

This year I have taken an even bigger step. I was introduced to Gena Heraty, an Irish lady, who established and is still running, the special needs program with NPH Haiti. Gena asked me to come and work with her for a year. We visited her school Kay Germaine in Tabarre, Port -au-Prince, the only facility of its kind in Haiti, and I was blown away with programs and services. It was like a “CRC” in Haiti! So, here I am seven months later working as a physiotherapist in Kay Germaine with their 92 school children age 4-16. My role for the year is to help with the teaching and training program of the Haitian therapy staff through the Bobath concept and to give them support as needed along the way.

I am also there to teach parents how to handle their children with special needs and to help the teachers adapt activities for each child in the school. In Haiti there are no physiotherapy education programs. The therapists working for Gena’s organization are all trained by Norma, an amazing Argentinian Bobath trained physiotherapist. I was so happily surprised to see the level at which these therapists are working with children with severe disabilities. This was also a challenge as I now have to help bring them into their next level of training, and try to give them a greater understanding as to what they are doing and why. Together, with Norma and the other volunteers, we are holding two training days a month for all the therapists in Gena’s programs, at present there are 18 of them.

As well as their special needs education program, they are delivering residential care, outpatient therapy services for children with special needs, rehabilitation for stroke patients and social care to people with disabilities. (Please visit her Facebook page: Gena Heraty – Special Needs Programs, for many amazing stories, photos and videos or go to www. to find out more about her services)

I am going home to Sweden for Christmas, and know that as soon as I land, I will be looking forward to returning to this wonderful country with its beautiful people.

Annette Johansson   
Volunteer at the Special Needs Program

 

 

 

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