“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said “write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelations 21:5
I am making everything new –powerful words and this morning as I look at our newly opened Kay Gabriel I can’t help but feeling that yes, indeed the one who was seated on the throne had a plan that back in 2010 we never envisioned.
Let’s go back to January 2010, to the days before the earthquake of January 12th. Back then we were growing and developing Kay St. Germaine – our rehab center and school for CHILDREN with severe neurological disorders. We had opened Kay Germaine in 2008 and while our therapy program was going well we realized we needed help to develop our school as we badly needed experts to train our teachers.
Our heads were full of ideas and worries and we felt the weight of all our dreams and hopes on our shoulders. At that time we had Kay Eliane in our old hospital building in Petionville and Norma was often sleeping there as she travelled between Kay Christine in Kenscoff, Kay Eliane and Kay Ste.Germaine, training the therapists and working with the patients.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, Norma and I were working in Kay Ste. Germaine and as I decided I wanted to stay there that night, Norma decided to stay with me. Back then we rarely stayed at Kay Ste. Germaine because it was so, so, hot. That evening as we were sitting on the couch drinking tea and Mate (Norma’s Argentinian tea – also what the Pope drinks!!!) the ground shook and lives were changed forever. We did not know it at the time but the seeds for Kay Gabriel were firmly planted on that evening when the dust had settled. And on September 2, 2013, children and adults with neurological disorders happily and proudly baptized our new center with their presence and indeed everything was indeed made new.
We never planned to work with adults because our hands were full with children. Our funds were already diminishing. After the earthquake we saw that there were many adults and children suffering from physical injuries. Some very severe and some not so severe. All were treated in either our pediatric hospital or in our adult hospital. We are physically in the middle of these two hospitals and as we had therapists it made sense that we would reach out and treat the injured. So Norma and her team started doing just that- treating the injured. At first they treated the adults in a makeshift therapy center beside the adult hospital but after a short time we decided it was easier to take these patients into Kay Germaine and make a room to treat them. Fondiazone Francesca Rava (NPH Italy) quickly mobilised and send us technology and technicians to enable us to make and provide prosthetic limbs for the amputees. Haiti was in a “state of emergency’ so we were responding to the needs and doing what we could. I think deep down we knew we were about to create something new – about to start including adults into our program- but we dared not think too much about it or what it might entail.
Pretty soon the patients with the injuries began to improve and were discharged. Additionally we started having adult stroke patients coming to us from the adult hospital. Norma organised and expanded her team and before long she had therapists ready to work with the stroke patients. What a beautiful program this has become. Just like our severely handicapped kids, this population is so marginalised in Haiti. Typically they have strokes which paralyzes one side of the body and then they are left at home with no follow up. You should see them when they first come to us- slumped in their wheelchairs, sad despondent eyes struggling to accept the loss of independence. Some old and wrinkled with beautiful grey hair- you have the feeling that every wisp of that hair has a story of courage and determination to tell! Some young – early thirties and you wonder to yourself how the heck she had a stroke so young. Some come with sons, some come with daughters. Husbands bring wives, wives bring husbands. All are wheeled in and not a sign, not even a tiny glimpse of hope accompanies them on that first trip.
Then, after the first session, the mood lightens. The therapists are good at their jobs. They engage the patients in conversation, encouraging them to move the arm that seems to prefer to stay silent by its side. “Come on, come on stand up, you can do it, don’t worry I won’t let you fall, yes you can, yes you CAN do it!” Family members are assistants to the therapy – they are taught how to help. It’s a team effort. The goal is to regain independence and to recreate self confidence and self esteem. It’s a big job! The team works hard and the results are seen within weeks. I love it! I love to see the patients shuffling out of here after just a few weeks of therapy. I love to see them improve week by week. I love to see the faces, the smiles replacing the tears. I love to see the hope in the eyes that just held despair. I love to see that they are not alone on this journey. That in their hour of need they found us! “I will lead (the blind)by ways they have not know, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them, I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42.16
While all this was happening we were also following our dream to improve our school. Luckily for us Liz Lawne (Irish volunteer) and Kristine Cronin (US volunteer) agreed to work with us in the school and for the school year 2011-2012 they focused entirely on transforming our school into a true special needs school. This was a HUGE undertaking because while we had students, teachers and beautiful classrooms, none of our teachers had training to work with these types of children. Not only that, but they had no adaptive materials. Well Liz and Kristine had quite a challenge that year and they did a super job. I wish everyone reading this could spend a week in the Kay Germaine school. It is so, so, beautiful! The kids have such a great time learning. I kid you not, this is a super program. The teachers have all received a lot of training (it is ongoing) and some have even travelled to the US to receive training. Experts from the US have come and evaluated us and given training and advice. We are on a roll!!
I could write forever about every little bit of what goes on but let me get back to the real story today which is Kay Gabriel! After the earthquake we brought in adults to Kay Germaine and already had the school and what do you think we noticed once we looked up from the work? We noticed we were all too crowded in the one building! Not only that, but some of our mobile kids were racing about the place during recreation and on more than one occasion were bumping into our stroke patients that were already not stable on their feet! Can you picture the scene – a frail and fragile adult wobbling and taking baby steps with the help of a walker and a speedy gonzales downs syndrome child comes right at him! Honest to goodness, this was happening and then it was thanks to some fast thinking staff member that reached out and grabbed the kid that an accident was prevented.
So that was one real problem. The other one was that due to the adults we lost valuable space for the children. So we decided we needed to build a place for the adults and for the workshop that was making prosthetics and orthotics. Thus the idea to build Kay Gabriel. Why Gabriel? Now here is another nice story – really it is Norma’s story to tell – but as I am writing I will do my best. Father Gabriel Brochero was a priest in Argentina that worked a lot with poor people the country side. (You can Google for the long version – I will keep this short!). At the moment he is almost a saint – he is in the process of becoming one. When Norma worked in Argentina she worked with a little boy called Nicolas. Nicolas had been in a very bad car accident with his family and was given up for dead. Several doctors attended to him and each said he was dead. His family prayed to Father Brochero and when a third doctor came and looked at Nicolas he found him alive. And he is still alive today!
After the earthquake we were working with a little girl named Joanne. She had severe brain damage and was in a coma. The visiting doctors said that there was no hope for her and that we should tell the family this. Of course we didn’t!! We are people of hope and of light! Or as our dear Sister Lorraine (RIP) would say, “we are a ressurection people”. Well anyway Norma worked closely with Joanne and she prayed and prayed to Father Brochero. And today Joanne is doing very well despite her brain damage. She is unable to walk but she is able to talk and is very aware of her surroundings and is able to understand everything you say. Her mother understands Joanne very well and we are all very, very delighted with how she is doing. We believe that Joanne recovered so well because of Father Brochero and so Norma thought it would be a good name for our new centre. And so it is!
So thus the idea to build Kay Gabriel became a neccessity and once again we had the support of Fondiazone Francesca Rava (NPH Italy) and they found the donors Cilla for Haiti and Foundation Lord Michelham of Hellingly. Originally we decided that this building would be for adult therapy and the workshop for orthotics and prosthetics.We also considered putting one group of older children there so they would have some vocational training.
However as the needs change, we need to adjust our ideas. As our school continues to grow and develop it became very obvious that some of the classrooms were too small for the kids because special needs kids cannot be cooped up in small areas. They need a little more space. Likewise the wheelchairs take up a lot of space. We also had to consider how it would be for Norma to supervise adult and children’s therapy in two locations. You know we are pretty flexible people – life here requires that you can adapt and be flexible. Among ourselves we started to say “what if” – what if we moved all therapy to Kay Gabriel and kept Kay Germaine for the school? What if indeed!
We looked at the space, we looked at the possibilities and we decided that Kay Gabriel would be the therapy wing of our program and it would also house the orthotic/prosthetic workshop. Decision made. The teachers and volunteers in the school are overjoyed to have all that space for the school. The kids will also once they get here next Monday. Norma and her team are also happy, the parents and patients are happy and God is good! Right?
So my friends we are indeed a resurrection people. We lost our building in Petionville in the earthquake but we bounced back and quickly had another building bought and repaired and opened with 15 months. So from Kay Christine, the original program in Kenscoff, we have grown to Kay Eliane, Kay Ste. Germaine and now Kay Gabriel. I am so, so happy with this progress. And so, so happy with the support received from near and far. It is a team effort. Here in Haiti we have a good team running our programs. Finesse has been with us 20 for years this year and she is a powerful, powerful kind woman that does a super job. We keep increasing her work load and she keeps taking it without complaint. If it wasn’t for her and for Carmelle and Rosmite in Kay Christine we could never have expanded out of Kay Christine.
So there you have it. Kay Gabriel is up and running and we will have the official opening on Oct. 4th 2013 – which is the feast day of St. Francis and seeing as how the Pope is from Argentina and a big supporter of Father Brochero we wanted to invite him to the inauguration but……..maybe not this time.
Now in case you might be thinking we are going to stop there let me just share a few more needs/ideas with you all. We NEED to develop a program for our school kids that will soon be young adults – like a vocational training workshop. We will be starting this inside Kay Germaine but we NEED to develop this into something bigger so that the kids have a program for when they leave us. We NEED to have an area of work for these kids for when they would leave this vocational training workshop. These are two NEEDS for two new programs! You can see that we NEED them – can’t you? I mean you can’t educate these kids and then send them out to nothing can you??? So we are thinking ahead!!
We have already started reaching out to other organization working with children with severe disabilities outside of Port-au-Prince. We want to help them develop their programs as they badly need help. We want to to help them train their staff and want them to avail of our knowledge and expertise. We have ideas and plans and have already identified three places we will help. We made some visits already and gave some ideas but it will take time – hopefully we have lots of that.
We want to develop links with regular schools so they will accept some of our kids that we feel could learn well in a regular school. In Haiti this does not happen. Kids that have a handicap are not accepted into school despite a recent law requiring acceptance.
We want the government to look at our model and help develop other centers similar to ours. Our dream is that children like ours throughout Haiti will have services available to them.
I think I will leave you now as I am getting tired with the idea of all our ideas. Like I have often said before, we are a people of hope so I do hope that some day all our dreams will be realised. “ For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”- Romans 8:24-25
Please, please accept my sincere thanks for all your support and please continue to support us. We need you!
Gena Heraty, Director, NPH Haiti Special Needs Programs