By Attila Kulcsar
When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti's capital, Port au Prince, and the surrounding towns in January 2010 HelpAge had already been there for 9 years, working to empower and support poor and vulnerable older people.
The money raised through the DEC's Haiti Earthquake Appeal, announced within 24 hours of the quake, meant that we could extend our work to help older people recover from the disaster.
We gave over 5,500 of the most vulnerable older people emergency cash transfers and distributed more than 6,000 food baskets. 1,000 people received shelter materials and we gave out more than 5,500 hygiene kits to guard against diseases such as cholera.
Health: A key priority
DEC funding allowed HelpAge to provide high quality and age-appropriate healthcare for more than 17,000 older people. Health has been one of our key priorities in Haiti and we have actively worked to ensure the chronic health needs of older people are attended to.
We partnered with three public health centres to provide free access to healthcare and medicines and set up the country's first and only geriatric ward in partnership with a private hospital, CENSHOP.
Geriatric training was given to 55 nurses at health clinics and hospitals. And we established good links with medical and nursing schools to strengthen the curriculum on geriatric care.
Roger used to be a fisherman, carpenter and decorator. In 2008 he had a stroke which left him partially paralysed on one side. He and his family are from Jacmel but on the day of the earthquake they were all in Port-au-Prince.
"After the earthquake we went to live in a camp and lived in a tent. While I was there, a HelpAge nurse visited me and diagnosed me with prostate problems. She referred me to CENSHOP. I was really sick when I came here but now I look so good because of all the care I get from the doctors and nurses here. "They make me feel at home and spend time with us. We are more like friends than doctor and patient. Without HelpAge and CENSHOP, my friends and I would all be dead."
Sustainable support for older people
Through a well-coordinated programme of training carried out in collaboration with Haiti's various health organisations, HelpAge has made a substantial and sustainable contribution to the support provided to older people:
- 209 home-based carers were trained to serve 93 camps for displaced people. They carried out weekly visits to more than 15,000 vulnerable older people.
- 150 home-based carers had refresher training on first aid, hygiene, cholera prevention and nutrition.
- 570 older people were trained in four communes to manage and contain chronic diseases.
- 3,000 older people received ophthalmic care (including eye tests, glasses and cataract surgery) and ophthalmic first aid training was given to 55 staff at the National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness.
- Almost 6,000 older people were offered post-traumatic stress support.
Radio: A lifeline for older survivors
We created a radio programme targeted at and run by older people – in a country where radio is key for sharing and receiving information.
Programmes focused on healthcare, cholera prevention and tips on what to do if there in the event of another earthquake, increasing awareness of the many issues faced by Haiti's older people and challenging stereotypes.
Radios were also included in the 3,000 solar-panel kits distributed to 5,300 older people in the camps, together with lamps and mobile phone chargers. This allowed many older people to generate a small income by charging other people's phones.
A boost to local economies
76% of older people said their livelihood had been either fully or partially destroyed by the earthquake. HelpAge helped them become productive members of society once again by providing financial assistance to 4,400 people so they could buy what they needed from local markets, replacing destroyed possessions.
Loans were given to 1,700 older people to set up small businesses, and training on income generating activities was provided to representatives from 24 older people's associations.
HelpAge has worked with older people to establish and support a network of 93 older people's associations in both makeshift camps and poor neighbourhoods. Through these associations, older people come together, not just to socialise but to lobby local and national government to ensure their specific needs are included in the reconstruction of Haiti.
More than 7,000 older people have participated in educational and psychosocial activities within an intergenerational framework. 74-year-old Cyrius, president of an older people's association in Leogane, says: "HelpAge took the first step. It is our turn to continue the work."