The following article was written by Nicole Foy, a freelance journalist living in San Antonio, TX.
Saint Vincent’s Centre for Handicapped Children keeps a stationed guard at its front iron gates around the clock in bustling downtown Port-au-Prince. One reason is to make sure no one abandons a child brought desperately to the door. Sadly, this is attempted at least once a month, says Aurélie Michelle Fièvre, Administrative Manager. Saint Vincent’s is one of the many institutions owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.
I first came here about two months after the earthquake in 2010 with my friends Drs. Ruth Berggren and Kaye Wilkins from UT Health – San Antonio. My family and I had taken in a young girl (Bethlie) from Leogane whose leg had been damaged by the earthquake. She was living with us in Texas and receiving medical care. After several months, Ruth took me to Haiti so I could see things firsthand. All these years later, I was glad to return to Haiti and see Saint Vincent’s again. This time I traveled with my husband and daughters, as well as with Bethlie and her family. It was Bethlie’s first trip back to Haiti after the earthquake. And, as it turns out, my good friend Jennifer Wickham now serves as Development Coordinator for Saint Vincent’s. (Some San Antonians may remember Jennifer from her days on staff at St. George Episcopal School, where she, among other things, helped lead the Chain of Love event that built a school in Haiti and supported other efforts.)
Aurélie and the Saint Vincent’s director, the Rev. Frantz “Fanfan” Cole, gave us a glimpse into this unique and holistic program that is so direly needed in Haiti (hence the practice of parents trying to abandon children with special needs). Saint Vincent’s provides academic, clinical, and residential services for blind, deaf, and physically disabled children and adults. Here, students learn to work with their disabilities and also study reading, writing, history, geography, mathematics, English, art, and music.
The conversation brought back memories of the pleadings of Bethlie’s mom, who was not allowed to leave the country with her child when Bethlie was airlifted to San Antonio for care after the earthquake. “Please have the doctors do all they can to save her leg,” Roselie begged me over the phone. When a decision had to be made as to whether Bethlie should undergo an arduous and very painful “lengthening” process to essentially stretch the remaining part of her bone so that she wouldn’t walk with a limp, Roselie didn’t hesitate. “Do it,” she told us.
It’s nice to know Saint Vincent’s fills an important void in Haiti, but it’s also so difficult when you realize how great the need is. Saint Vincent’s Centre accommodates over 300 students and residents. But that’s a tiny fraction of the estimated 500,000 disabled people in the country.
To expand and further professionalize its services, Saint Vincent’s is moving this summer out of its downtown campus–which is actually across the street from a prison and just a few blocks from where the grand National Palace once stood before the earthquake completely destroyed it.
The new location is referred to as “Santo 17”and located in a suburb northeast of Port-au-Prince, Jennifer said. Surrounded by a security wall, the new property includes dormitories, classrooms, community spaces, a chapel, fruit trees, and farmable land. It also includes a swimming pool which can be adapted for physical therapy. Financial support for the new campus is still needed.
In addition to operating as both a day and residential school, Saint Vincent’s also offers a variety of medical services to its students and the surrounding community. Services offered include pediatrics, orthopedics, and physical therapy, as well as resources for those with hearing and/ or vision-related conditions. Prosthetic services are provided by a brace shop, which will remain in the downtown location.
Spending a morning here at Saint Vincent’s was so meaningful for our group. It was the last day of school when we were there so you could almost feel that summer happiness setting in. Exams were over, boxes were being packed. We cannot wait to visit the new place on our next trip back!
I urge you to like their Facebook page Centre Saint Vincent to strengthen their connections to the United States. They also accept much-needed donations at this link: http://stvincentshaiti.org/donate. Thank you!