Haiti: Society's "forgotten ones" get respite from hardship

from ACT Alliance
Published on 08 Dec 2010 View Original
By Maria Halava, ACT Alliance

Haitians have been tested well beyond what most people can be reasonably expected to endure. Their country was struggling to recover from the January 12 earthquake when hurricane Tomas hit. Then a cholera epidemic spread from province to province.

Even before the earthquake, many Haitians lived with insurmountable problems.

One of these is Mireille Emerival, a mother of two boys - and a widow. Injured 11 years ago when she was shot by home invaders five times, she has been in a wheelchair since.

"Since my husband died, I've been alone with my two children. Moving around has been difficult and we haven't had anybody to help us. Life has not been easy," she says.

Life became much worse after the earthquake. Mireille Emerival only got aid when she was accepted to an ACT Alliance member Church World Service (CWS) programme for people with disabilities two months after the earthquake.

"Since March, I have been able to discuss things with social workers. For the first time, I feel like I've been acknowledged and that I'm part of something," she says.

Through the CWS programme, people with disabilities have found out about services, psychosocial support, trauma counseling and tools or working capital for them to recover their jobs and incomes.

After the earthquake, CWS met all the programme's 600 participants to assess the right kind of support for them.

As well as the support from social workers, Mireille Emerival receives US$75 each month from ACT Alliance. With that help, she has started a small business selling candies and cookings to meet her family's needs.

"I still need to pay the school fees for children and to rehabilitate our house after the earthquake. But all in all, I'm coping better now," she says.

Djouvens Ternize, a one-year-old boy, was playing with his siblings at home when the earthquake hit. His mother was out of the house buying food. When she rushed home, she found her baby under the rubble of a collapsed room with his leg broken and a large head wound. He lost a leg.

ACT Alliance gave the family financial assistance for Djouvens Ternize's treatment, inlcuding a prosthesis. His mother Villiane Louis pulls up the trouser leg to reveal the prosthesis.

Djouvens Termize seems to be coping well with his new leg but the family still has concerns. Should the leg need further treatment, the family simply couldn't afford it. "There are always needs - both financial and material," Louis says.

Helping people with disabilities consider their future

Across the nation, the need for psychological help remains high. In addition to helping people with trauma normalise their lives, the most important matters now are to provide housing, get children back in school, create job opportunities and gain some economic stability.

"People have to deal with more than just the earthquake now. All the problems and difficulties they had even before accumulated on that particular day," Marie Yona Fabre, a psychologist working with an ACT Alliance affiliate says.

People with disabilities live in complex situations and have often been the forgotten ones in society. Before the earthquake, Haiti had an estimated 800,000 disabled people. Now there are many more. ACT Alliance members are working hard to get people in their programmes as mobile as possible and thinking about their futures.

"Right now, it may look like there are no means to do that. But we have to see what has been done already - how people can benefit from that and how we can still support them. The most important thing is what people can do themselves and how they can help themselves go forward in their lives," Marie Yona Fabre says.