Step by Step in Haiti

by contact@cbm.org | CBM International
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:58 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

By Brian Hatchell, CBM Emergency Communications Coordinator

Yesterday I visited an unbelievably inspiring programme called Pazapa, which means "step by step" in Creole.

Pazapa is primarily an education centre for about 225 children with disabilities, but in reality it is so much more. It offers nutrition and health care services, family planning, clubfoot and orthopaedic care, community outreach programmes, income generation training, training/education for parents of children with disabilities, rehabilitation, vocational training for older students, sign-language classes for the hearing impaired and home visits for parents and children who can"t attend the school.

Hard to imagine all this is taking place in a facility located on a piece of land about the size of a football field, and housing four open-air classrooms, a kitchen and two administration tents.

Overseeing it all is a woman by the name of Marika MacRae, a woman with a heart the size of Haiti, and the strength of a lioness. Marika was born in Fergus, Ontario, a small farming community north-west of Toronto, but her parents moved to Haiti when she was only three months old. They took over the project from a group of Peace Corps volunteers and eventually Marika took it over from them. She walks around the grounds like a mother amongst her flock, and the children run to her simple to walk alongside her or hold her hand.

The children are incredible, ranging in age from newborn to 24 years old. Never have I seen so many smiling faces. Almost as soon as we show up they come running over to us and grab our hands and start talking with us, or inviting us to play, or grabbing our hand and walking us around the playground. It"s a true joy to be among them. To clap and dance, to swing a rope, to kick a football, or just to sit and stare at each other. Communication seems easy despite the many barriers. Almost makes it seems like words are over-rated. I prefer the smiles, hand-gestures and laughter.

I met a woman, Leon Isador, whose two year old son Leonel is in the early intervention programme for children with intellectual disabilities. Leonel has trouble standing and walking and cannot communicate like other children his age. Leon has three children, her house was destroyed in the quake and she and her husband are struggling to make ends meet. When I asked her what Pazapa means to her she smiles and says Pazapa is supporting the entire family. I ask her to explain and she tells me that Leonel has a place to come and play with other children, receive physiotherapy, and she receives training on caring for a child with a disability. But that"s not all. She explains that she is part of Pazapa"s livelihood programme. She, and a number of other women, are currently making peanut butter and jam that they plan to sell in Jacmel to earn an income.

In every way, shape and form Pazapa is truly living up to its name for Leon and her family. The organization is walking alongside her family during their journey "step by step." Pazapa isn"t going to solve all their problems, but it is reducing some of the stresses in their life, offering assistance where they can, and support when it is needed.

In return, CBM is supporting Pazapa but helping with the daily operation costs, and along with a couple other agencies, will help build a new centre in the New Year. Money wisely invested.

We had planned to spend about a couple hours at Pazapa, but ended up spending half a day. When it was time to leave it was genuinely difficult to tear ourselves away. I could have spent all day playing paddy-cake with the kids and signing with some of the students.

Pazapa is a great example of a grass-roots intervention. Find a need, meet it, repeat.

The idea of inclusion is foreign to Haiti. Children and people with disability in general are not included in the mainstream of society. They are often pushed to the background and hidden within households. CBM is advocating for inclusion in education, the workplace, society and life in general in Haiti. But until the happens it"s important to support organizations like Pazapa so children have a safe environment to learn and play and their parents get the support they need to take care of their children and life a fruitful life.