Haiti’s on its feet again, literally

January 12, 2014

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Today marked the four-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Our friends at AmeriCares write about Herve, a patient at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center, who like so many others lost his legs in the quake:
After having both legs amputated when they were crushed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 19-year-old Herve struggled. He was given prosthetics that did not work well and couldn’t go to school or join his friends.

Patients at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center in Port-au-Prince

Patients at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center in Port-au-Prince

Today marked the four-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Our friends at AmeriCares write about Herve, a patient at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center, who like so many others lost his legs in the quake:

After having both legs amputated when they were crushed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 19-year-old Herve struggled. He was given prosthetics that did not work well and couldn’t go to school or join his friends.

Then a health worker suggested Herve visit AmeriCares partner BRAC Limb and Brace Center, where Haitian workers handcraft artificial limbs. Technicians built prosthetics to fit Herve, and he can now walk, ride a bike and even play soccer. “I’m not sad anymore,” he explained. “I feel like I have my real legs back.”

Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, writes in Haiti: After the Earthquake of the many who woke up after the earthquake with limbs missing, thinking they’d never walk again. They, of course, were the lucky ones, for they avoided being crushed to the death by the rubble, or dying of gangrene or other infections.

The shock of enduring such “luck” is hard to fathom. “For most of Haitian history, losing a limb, especially a leg, was sure ticket to beggar status; disability begets pauperism for those working in agriculture,” writes Farmer in his book.

It doesn’t have to be this way – and indeed, for many it is no longer so.

Headline writers have called Haiti “the graveyard of hope,” but there are many, including Herve – along with groups like BRAC, AmeriCares, Fonkoze, Partners in Health and others – who are proving it is anything but.

As with elsewhere, BRAC is taking lessons from its native Bangladesh. I recently visited the original BRAC Limb and Brace Center in Savar, just outside Dhaka. Those not familiar with the geography of Bangladesh may recognize the name Savar, for it was the site of Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013. The death was more than 1,100, a number dwarfed by the tens or even hundreds of thousands that lost their lives in Haiti in 2010.

BRAC responded to both tragedies – one natural, one man-made – guiding those caught in the rubble to new hope and livelihoods.

In Savar, I met people who were symbols of resilience and perseverance: Hossain, a sales clerk who proudly wrote his name and phone number in my notebook, using the hands of his artificial arm, attached just below the elbow. The joints of his Bic-wielding prosthetic fingers responded to the muscle movements of his upper arm.

I met Rozina, a young mother who worked at a garment factory in Rana Plaza. Pinned beneath the rubble for three days, the rescue workers hesitated to amputate her arm when they finally found her. “Give me the chainsaw,” she said. One can leave the rest to the imagination. I thanked Rozina for her inspiration.

You’ll find stories like this in Haiti, too. If there’s a graveyard of hope here, it’s certainly not at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center (BLBC).

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Perhaps what’s most amazing about the center in Bangladesh is that it operates at 110% cost recovery. Patients pay on a sliding scale, based on what they can afford.

We’re working to make the Haiti center similarly self-sufficient. The plan is for BLBC Haiti to be completely independent in ten years. The center is already run and staffed by Haitians, with guidance, where needed, from BRAC’s home office in Dhaka.

For those that want to play a role in making this a reality, BRAC USA is currently raising $237,432 to unlock a total budget of $1 million to make further investments in the center to ensure full self-sufficiency. The center’s plan targets an annual 11% increase in patients served over a three-year period.

“The BLBC continues to grow its services, and in 2013 the BLBC in Haiti provided prosthetic, orthotic services and physical advices to 3,063 patients,” says Adassa Romilus, communications manager for the center. “In order to provide complete treatment services we plan to establish a physical therapy department.”

Our drive to raise funds is part of BRAC Impact Grants (“Think BIG”), a set of opportunities for philanthropists to leverage existing commitments by BRAC partners like AmeriCares. To learn more or to contribute, please download the full Think BIG prospectus or email thinkbig@bracusa.org.

 

 

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