an uncertain future

February 21, 2010

Driving through the city today, I was once again shocked into silence seeing the ruins. It does not matter how many times you go through, the degree of destruction slaps you in a fresh way each time. You notice more buildings. You notice more belongings. And you notice the now pieced-together lives in between. Huge cranes were out clearing huge piles of debris, but President Preval has stated that it will take three years to clear all the downed cement.

As we slowed to a stop in yet another traffic jam, I saw a man who had lost the lower half of his right leg sitting on top of a mountain of rubble. His loose grey trouser pant leg was crudely tied up just below his knee. His crutches lay awkwardly next to him on the crushed pile of concrete, tables, chairs, clothes and trash. I do not know when he had his amputation, but he looked like he was still in shock. He stared dumbfounded yet resigned out into the world, surrounded on every side by fallen buildings. He looked like a man without hope, wanting an answer for all that had become of his life but too wary to ask. Our eyes met, and we tiredly stared at each other without expression. After about 15 seconds, without any movement in his face or his eyes, he subtly turned his palm to face upwards. It was a simple gesture, but one that meant depths. He did not seem to be begging. It was almost like he just hadn’t a clue what else to do. It was a small petition for help while faced with such hardship and confronted with someone who just might care. I do not know this man’s name, nor do I know his story. But in those brief moments, he impacted me almost more than anybody else has yet during my time here.

The unspoken exchange placed on me the reality and the pain of all those who have lost limbs during or after the earthquake. There are estimates of 300,000 injured. The number is hard to comprehend, and it is even more than the number who died. It represents all of those who brushed closer to a similar fate and emerged with wounds to prove it. I do not know how many of those are amputees, but you see them everywhere you go. A child with heavy bandages over his hand; a man with a single leg sitting outside his fallen home; a woman with a slings over her twisted arm. They are those who are certainly blessed to be alive, mostly because of the aid that was delivered quickly after the earthquake in the form of skilled surgeons from Haiti and around the world. Many lives were saved in the first crucial days through World Relief’s partnership with King’s Hospital.

But these individuals now face an uncertain future in a country where the handicapped are often second-class citizens. Life post-earthquake in Haiti is challenging as it is—but it is harder to be disabled. A staff member told me about his concern for those who are recently handicapped. He said the Haitian government does not have policies in place to protect them, and that the buildings that still stand are not designed for them to be able to access. It worries him as he looks at all of those affected around him. “It’s disturbing. It’s a big problem for me,” Claudener said. 

Another co-worker of mine provided relief work during the tsunami. He said the lingering effects of the earthquake are far beyond what he experienced in that situation. “The tsunami doesn’t maim people for life. There are hundreds and hundreds of people here who are crippled, and they’re going to suffer for the rest of their lives,” Warren said. “The suffering is staggering. People who have lost a limb and lost their ability to make a living.”

I am not sure what type of work the man I saw today did before the quake, but I would guess he now cannot continue it. Some people have already lost everything they have worked for in the form of land, houses and belongings. But those who cannot earn an income in the aftermath will be far worse off. The stigma for people with disabilities is high. The man may not only have challenges with employment, but he could be discriminated against and placed at the social periphery. In a country where hierarchical norms and tiers still exist, he could be bumped to the bottom—affecting all of his hard-earned networks and relationships.

I try to believe that God means it when He says He will hear the righteous and deliver them out of all their troubles. That He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. I need to believe it for the hurting ones that I see, and for the many, many I do not.

My eyes stung as the car lurched forward again. I slowly turned to look behind me. The man was again staring blankly in front of him, his right hand now resting back on his incomplete leg.

(See Monday’s feature in New York Times to read more.)

2 Responses to “an uncertain future”

  1. Brandon P Says:

    Bless you Joanna. The longer I’m removed from the field, the more my heart gravitates that way. Appreciate your sentiments.

  2. […] Handicapped in Haiti have dramatically increased in the aftermath of the earthquake, which left more than 300,000 injured.  Their future would be a challenge under any circumstances, but they now face an even more uncertain future. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: