Being handicapped in the United States has a host of challenges. I know this is true, not because I have handicaps myself but because I have helped care for disabled family members. Getting into buildings can be difficult without proper ramp or railings; uneven sidewalks cause balance issues; narrow passages prevent wheelchair access; people steal accessible parking spaces because they are “just running into the store for a minute.”
But being handicapped in Haiti is practically a death sentence. Humans and other animals survive by adapting, right? But what if your disability prevents that possibility? In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, thousands were left with life-altering disabilities. Many lost limbs, crushed beneath the fallen rubble. Can you imagine having to face the possibility of future earthquakes with no support system and the odds already stacked against you?
In countries like Haiti, classrooms for children or adults with disabilities are few and far between. The handicapped are seen as cursed in voodoo culture, and therefore deserving of ridicule, shame, and persecution. In fact, it is considered lucky to rape someone with a handicap before buying a lottery ticket or starting a business venture.
(To read more about how abstinence isn’t always an option, read Dr. Vanderpool’s post in Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/missionary-doctor-abstinence-isnt-always-option.html. The woman described in the article was recently the recipient of an IUD.)
That’s why LiveBeyond’s Johnny’s Kids program (and the future Johnny’s House) is so important. It provides tangible ways for our beloved children to adapt. Nadia couldn’t walk when we first met her. With hours of meaningful therapy under the direction of dedicated physical and occupational therapists, she can now stand by herself and walk.
Pierre Richard and Chinyelo are getting mental and physical stimulation that they were not previously getting in their villages. We are finding out just how capable their minds are, even though their bodies are limited. Lancy “Belle,” Neissa, and Daphne become more independent and mobile every day. I fully expect to see them running around the clinic within the next few years.
And now, Badi, a child that has long been in our At Risk program is the newest member of the day program. When I first met Badi, he reminded me of the woman in Luke 13:11-13.
“And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. And when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands upon her, and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.”
A few weeks ago my eyes teared up as I watched a video that June team member, occupational therapist Haley Ogburn took of Badi sorting stamps. I have always loved snuggling and kissing him when we visit Penigo, but I’ve never been sure just how much he is capable of. Now I know that with therapy he will someday raise his head by himself and perform functions that could be a lifeline for him as an adult.
Even this week, caring team members are creatively changing the lives of Johnny’s Kids. Volunteer Jim Russell made a special toilet with handrails for them to use. Another brought in a walker that lit up Daphne’s face. We have a Facebook group specifically for the physical and occupational therapists that come down so that they can coordinate efforts and provide a continuity of care for our children.
I am so thankful that Johnny’s House is under construction in conjunction with the primary school. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for the future of the mentally and physically disabled in Thomazeau. The handicapped are not meant for neglect. They are valued sons and daughters of the King of Kings, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
If you would like to continue to support our work with Johnny’s Kids, donate here.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.