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Haiti: handicapped children learn to enjoy life again

15-11-2010 Feature

The earthquake in January 2010 led to a large number of amputations in Haiti. So that the amputees can be independent, they have to attend rehabilitation sessions, and child amputees, in particular, have to have their prostheses changed every so often. Olga Miltcheva met three little Haitians who were learning to enjoy life again after having suffered the worst.

“This is my mummy,” says Blaurha, a little doll-like two-year-old girl, as she gives Rachelle, a smiling young woman, a fond kiss. The scene is moving but almost trivial. Except that it is taking place on the lunar landscape of a district that has now been cleared after the earthquake. Blaurha’s jeans conceal an artificial leg. Rachelle is not her real mother but her aunt.

Blaurha’s mother died under the rubble of their home with the little girl in her arms. “Under the force of the earthquake, the building folded up like an accordion and we never dreamed that there were any survivors,” Rachelle related. “Three days later a neighbour heard a noise, a bit like a kitten mewing. It was Blaurha, who had miraculously escaped, the only survivor.”

Affected by the loss of several members of her family and her home, Rachelle has a piecemeal recollection of that period. She remembers the little girl’s body blackened by infection and the frenetic race to find medical assistance. Although she already had three children to look after, she decided to welcome Blaurha to her new home – two rooms with large cracks in the walls, shared by 15 people in the middle of the ruins.

The importance of orthopaedic check-ups

Twice a month Rachelle takes Blaurha along the long road to one of the few orthopaedic centres in Port-au-Prince – a temporary base which was set up as an emergency measure by the organizations Healing Hands for Haiti and Handicap International and which the ICRC’s Special Fund for the Disabled is going to rebuild, equip and support over the next five years.

These check-ups are important; Blaurha will have to learn to walk with her prosthesis and as she grows, her artificial leg will have to be changed or adjusted. Ten months after her amputation, Blaurha is already on her third prosthesis.

In the same orthopaedic centre, Alexandre, a cheerful five-year-old, is becoming restless as he waits beside his mother and his little sister. Like Blaurha, Alexandre is an earthquake victim; he survived after spending several hours under the rubble. His prosthesis is now being adjusted by a technician. He explains that his prosthesis hurt him.

Suddenly his face lights up as he spots another boy moving surely along a staircase specially designed for rehabilitation purposes. “He’s my friend, even if he is bigger than me,” he pointed out.

Jordanie, Alexandre’s friend, is ten years old. The earthquake robbed him of his leg as well as of his mother and his home. Ten months later he is still living in a tent. Spotted by humanitarian workers at a camp for displaced persons, he was fitted only recently with an artificial limb but is already doing his best to play football with the other children.

The children’s dreams

Blaurha walks determinedly behind her toy despite the weight of her artificial foot. “I would really like her to become a doctor or a lawyer. In any case, a strong woman because we need women like that in Haiti,” Rachelle is hopeful and says that she is optimistic about Blaurha’s future despite their day-to-day difficulties.

As for Alexandre, he is fascinated by musicians, while Jordanie firmly believes that he will one day be a great football player. Ten months after the earthquake, the three children have rediscovered the joys of living, even if they still jump when they hear a storm or the sound of a passing truck. The physical handicap will still be there. But as long as they continue to have access to proper orthopaedic services, they will have every chance of growing up independently and, who knows, of making their dreams come true.


Photos

 

Blaurha and her adoptive mother Rachelle, at home in Port-au-Prince.
© ICRC / O. Miltcheva

 

Jordanie (10) undergoes rehabilitation a few weeks after being fitted with an artificial leg.
© ICRC / O. Miltcheva

 

Ten months after the earthquake, Jordanie and Alexandre (right) have rediscovered the joys of living.
© ICRC / O. Miltcheva