Three years after the earthquake: Empowering the people of Haiti

by Handicap International UK | hi_uk | Handicap International - UK
Friday, 26 April 2013 16:29 GMT

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

Handicap International launched its biggest ever emergency operation in response to the earthquake that hit Haiti on 12th January 2010. Three years on, the organisation is still present in Haiti, where it is helping to build the capacity of the local population to respond to the country’s needs.

2010-2011: A large-scale emergency response
During the two years immediately following the earthquake, Handicap International helped thousands of victims, especially people who suffered disabling injuries as a result of the earthquake. The organisation provided the following support:

- 90,000 basic care and rehabilitation sessions (in homes or tents, on the street right after the emergency, or at a disability focal point; usually provided by mobile teams)
- 1,500 people were fitted with orthopaedic devices
- 5,600 mobility aids (crutches, wheelchairs, etc.) were distributed
- 4,500 rehabilitation sessions were delivered by our physiotherapists
- 25,000 people received psychosocial support
- 22,000 tons of aid were transported
- 1,050 transitional shelters were built, providing homes for more than 5,000 people.

At the peak of its emergency response, Handicap International employed about 600 staff members, including 80 expatriates. Following the completion of the emergency response activities, the organisation has now turned its attention to development actions, with the aim to sustainably improve Haiti’s rehabilitation sector.

Handing responsibility to Haitian professionals
Handicap International’s aim is not to act as a substitute for a country’s national health services over the long-term, but to create the conditions for the management of activities by local organisations. In 2012, the organisation transferred some of its physical rehabilitation operations to a local partner, Healing Hands for Haiti, which has now built a new orthopaedic-fitting centre in Port-au-Prince.

When the earthquake struck in 2010, Haiti had a mere 13 physical therapists, half of whom were living abroad. As a result, Handicap International has launched training sessions in Haiti for the first time. These courses train Haitian rehabilitation professionals to case-manage patients who need to be fitted with orthopaedic devices. Within two years, Haiti should have a national staff of 70 rehabilitation staff and 32 prosthetic and orthotic technicians to help support people with disabilities, particularly amputees.

“One of our core principles is to ensure the continuity of care for people with disabilities after our projects end or are scaled down, so we began to think about how to resolve the skills shortage in the country. That's why we decided to give young people the opportunity to be trained in rehabilitation and orthotics.” said Patrick Sénia, Handicap International's Director in Haiti.

Promoting dignity through work
Known as “kokobé” in Haiti (meaning “good for nothing” in Creole), people with disabilities have long been stigmatised in Haiti. Socio-economic inclusion projects are an essential step towards helping them play a role in society. Around 400 families have benefited from Handicap International’s social inclusion project which helps vulnerable people and their families set up small businesses. Designed to be as practical as possible, this project provides beneficiaries with training and an initial stock of products which they can use to develop a small local business.

Preparing for future natural disasters
Handicap International's emergency response teams are still active in Haiti through a project called the Rapid Response Mechanism, which was set up in partnership with the Haiti Civil Protection Unit to manage the response to the natural disasters which regularly plague the country. Whenever a new emergency arises, pre-identified teams are mobilised to perform immediate assessments and provide a multi-sector response, covering basic needs, water, hygiene, sanitation, health, education, and child protection. This mechanism was successfully activated in September 2012 following Hurricane Isaac and again at the end of October when the country was hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Press contact
Tom Shelton, Handicap International UK
Tel: +44 (0)203 463 2377
Mob: +44 (0)7508 810 520

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About Handicap International
Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations in over 60 countries worldwide, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Handicap International is a co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.