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Working through the weekend in Haiti


Med student Dave Campbell in Haiti with double amputee Garioul Voltaire

It was a busy July weekend here in Deschapelles – the small town built around the Hopital Albert Schweitzer, about two and a half hours north of Port-au-Prince in the L’Artibonite Valley. On Friday, my local research assistant and I had four interviews scheduled in different locations throughout the valley. I had imagined that the people would have lived out in the mountains and outlying towns, so I thought it would be easiest for us to ride our bikes. However, it turns out all of the people live directly on the highway and in retrospect we probably should have taken a taptap, pickup trucks that serve as public transport – often carrying more than 25 people.

We rode our bikes to Liancourt first, which is about seven kilometres away and we rode the whole way on the highway – which has no shade like everywhere else around here. I’ve been in the shade so much since I got here, that I haven’t had to wear sunscreen – needless to say, I should have today! I got quite sunburned riding my bike around.

The first person we interviewed in Liancourt was a 31-year-old bilateral amputee who lost both legs when his house burned down when he was a year old. His name is Garioul Voltaire and his story was very illuminating. Since he was a child he has been getting around in a wheelchair and a cart that resembles a wagon with hand pedals similar to a bicycle. He is incredibly good at getting around – he gets himself to and from Port-au-Prince several times per month.

His story was interesting because he never stayed in the Hanger inpatient rehab program and has never completed his rehab as an outpatient, and therefore hasn’t even been given his prostheses. He perfectly exemplified the social determinants of health: When I asked why he wasn’t in the inpatient program he told me that it was because he has a young daughter that he couldn’t leave for an extended time because of lack of a social support network. When asked why he doesn’t commute to outpatient therapy sessions, of course it was because he doesn’t have money to take the taptap and moto taxi to get to therapy. Because of these factors, he still doesn’t have his prostheses that were made for him even though he claims he would like to have them.

Possibly the most interesting part of our discussion was when I asked him what he wants to do with his life. He told me that he would like to get more involved with his handicap organization. Apparently he started an organization but hasn’t really done too much with it. He doesn’t know where to begin or what they could do to help.

He said that he would like to help out with getting disabled persons bursaries or help them by buying merchandise to sell. He seemed to be quite discouraged but still had a great vision for the future and is hoping to find someone to help him realize his dream. I found it very inspiring to see how dedicated he was to his goal of helping other people with disabilities in the area here, despite being of such scarce means himself.

I thought that the next person we were going to visit was in Liancourt too, but when I talked to him it turns out that he is actually in Pont Sonde, the next town down the road, another six kilometres. He was going to get on a taptap to come meet us in Liancourt but I offered to go to him before I knew how far it was, so off we went!

Needless to say, by the time we got back I was exhausted! I stay up at the amputee village in a depot room beside the nurses’ station. I generally haven’t slept very well since I’ve been here – could be partly because we have no electricity and therefore no fan in 32 degree heat, or because I am sleeping on a desk that is too short and because I’ve had some problems with my bug net – this caused me a lot of problems sleeping after I killed a poisonous spider called a brown recluse in my room last week. But after that long day on a bike – riding more than 25 km, I slept like a baby!

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