As a new year comes in, we are wise to take a look back on the year ending and somehow sum up 365 days of life and all that entails!
In the special needs programs, our biggest challenge during 2021 was the insecurity in Haiti. It is fair to say that we all worried and stressed through every day, and without doubt our greatest success was being able to survive the year!
Our Special Needs school and our rehab centre had to close for several periods during the year but we are still here and still doing a great job. Parents and patients are very happy with the services we provide, and the school children continue to learn in a safe and happy environment.
In Haiti, survival of a program is a huge success!
In terms of those living in Kay Christine- many of our family members are very fragile, and to get through a year with no death is a great achievement. Credit goes to our wonderful staff and the high level of care we provide. We also had a year where no one was hospitalized – another major achievement! Our family is ageing. Our challenges are increasing, as many that were previously among the stronger ones, now face adult health issues and this demands changes. We will get there!
We welcome 2022 and we pray for good health and strength to deal with whatever comes our way. We pray for peace in Haiti and in the world. We pray for a world where LOVE becomes the trend that takes over! Thank you for staying with us!
In this article from the Irish Times, Gena Heraty reflects on being cut off from church by covid, as well as her drive to “mother” the people in her care, as well as the violence and rough justice of life in Haiti.
We haven’t closed out our Christmas appeal, so you can still help to overcome the problems that Gena and the residents face.
Today I want to tell you a little bit about the wonderful men and women that work as carers in Kay Christine. But first let me just give you a little insight into the Kay Christine family.
The Kay Christine family comprises 31 residents – 12 girls and 19 boys. The youngest is almost 11 and the oldest is 44.
The average age in the family is 27, so you see why I have to stop calling them kids! Of those 31 residents, 8 are in wheel chairs and are totally dependent- in other words they require carers to take care of all their basic needs. Another 9 are able to walk – some with limitations – but need full assistance with toileting and bathing. Of that 9, all have been taught to feed themselves but some need help with drinking.
The other 14 are able to take care of their basic needs by themselves, but a few need supervision. A total of 10 are non-verbal, 10 more have some limited language, are able to make themselves understood most of the time, but the average non Kay Christine member, would have great difficulty to understand them. 11 can speak clearly and 8 of those 11 can hold a conversation.
Now back to the carers. We have two different sets of carers- those that live in and those that come and go every day. Both groups work 7 days on and 7 days off. When Covid came we had to re-think things, and came up with this current schedule, which, thankfully, everyone loves!
Those that come and go every day start in the morning at 6am and finish at 6pm with some breaks during the day.
They come in the morning and and their main responsibility is the care of the more disabled dependent residents that sleep in one big dorm downstairs. They get everyone up, bathed, dressed and fed and then take care of house chores – making beds, cleaning, folding clothes, etc. During the day we have a total of 6 scheduled diaper/toileting changes(this includes the getting up and going to bed changes) and many unscheduled ones too depending on individual needs.
The team handles all those changes and all meals during the day right up until bed time. All those that need assistance are ready for bed by 6pm though they may not necessarily go to bed until 7. In Haiti, we all go to bed early and are up early, so this schedule works well for our family.
At 6pm we have 2 night ladies that come and they look after the more dependent residents during the night and they also get everything ready for morning bathing and breakfast. They work 6pm to 6am and have a 5 on 5 off schedule.
While they are not nurses, they have been trained to take very good care of everyone and they are adept at taking temperatures, changing the positions of those that cannot turn by themselves and making sure that everyone is comfortable and safe during the night. Many of our more dependent family members have issues with breathing, so we need to be very careful with them and how we position them.
We are very proud that we never have pressure sores in Kay Christine, and our staff are very aware of all the little gestures our non verbal residents make when they need to be changed or when they need to be turned. We have a nurse on site all the time. Whenever we have an issue the night staff come and get us – the nurse, the supervisor and myself – who sleep upstairs.
Our mobile people also sleep upstairs- we have 2 boys bedrooms and 2 girls bedrooms. In each of the boys room there is a male carer. These men live in for their week on and they take care of the boys/men in each room- three boys in each room plus one carer. The girls upstairs do not need a carer with them, though the nurse does sleep in one of the girls room.
Right beside Kay Christine there is another 2-story house. Downstairs in that house we have one carer and 6 our more able-bodied boys. They are pretty independent but do need guidance with most of the daily activities. Finally we have 2 people (1 man and 1 woman) that each have their own living space and own individual carer, as they can be very difficult and aggressive at times.
So there you have it! The day is full on and as you can imagine, with all the different personalities, one needs to have a lot of patience- especially when the bigger personalities have disputes among themselves.
Challenges getting to work
Remember I told you the day carers come in at 6am. Well you should know that some of them leave their homes before 5 and walk for at least an hour up the mountain to get to us. Some others can take a motor taxi but more recently with the fuel crisis they also had to walk for well over an hour. No matter the weather, these ladies show up. They are truly fantastic. The staff that live in are equally fantastic. Some of them live in areas that are not at all safe so they frequently have to negotiate burning tyres and gun battles when they are coming and going to our home. Our staff have been with us for years. We joke among ourselves that we have grown up together, as most of them have been with us for over 15 years, and quite a few for over 20 years. What a blessing!
Honouring our staff
So, is it any wonder we want to honor our staff this Christmas? Without them, there would never be this great Kay Christine Family!
Support our Christmas appeal
Support our Christmas appeal and you’ll give a gift to each of our carers and make your contribution to the Special Needs funding for 2022. Thank you!
Gena Heraty’s thoughts on why it makes sense for you to donate to Special Needs
I have been thinking about the question why is a donation to NPH the best thing to do with my quid. I guess it depends on how the person feels about giving money to charity and what expectation they have. I would tell the donor that any money given to me goes directly to sustain our programmes for children with special needs and to others in great need. Every single day we meet people desperate for help. Most are looking for work, all without fail have not eaten a meal that day and are lucky if they have eaten a decent meal the day before. If you happen to have money you will always find a way to help a little, while recognizing that the best you can do is just to pay for a few meals. We cannot create jobs for everyone tho God knows we try.
Our rehab program provides services to people that are rejected by society. In Haiti children with severe disabilities are seen as people to be abandoned as it is deemed a waste of money to do anything with them. Parents are humiliated when they are seen out and about with their kids. Our programmes not only provide valuable services to this population but we valorise them. Children that come to our school have been rejected by other schools and in our school they learn in a safe, clean, happy environment. We even have school buses on the road to pick them up and take them back home. When they are with us their parents can work and know their kids are in good hands. We provide excellent services. International experts are always amazed at how fast our stroke patients recover due to our excellent physical therapy that we have trained. Likewise, they are amazed at the quality of therapy and care given to the children coming to our programs.
When they visit our home in Kenscoff – where I live – they find a home oozing with love and joy despite so many challenges. We are a family here in Kay Christine. As I am writing this, Yvonne – our oldest resident – has come to sit next to me. She is just sitting quietly. She was found roaming the streets over 30 years ago, eating from the rubbish and not even able to explain anything about herself. Our youngest, Jackie has just finished bathing downstairs, and earlier, as I was looking at his happy smiling face, I was remembering how he was abandoned in the hospital after his mother died from Cholera. He himself also had cholera and was in near death. When he came to us, he was in a wheelchair and could not even stand up. Now he is well able to walk and is a very happy young man.
We have been here a long time now – since 1987 (I came in 1993). We have a proven track record and we are committed to those we share life with. We have battled one crisis after another and never faltered. We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter Sunday people. Every day we see the stations of the cross played out in the lives of so many people. Sometimes, all we can do is stand, like Mary at the foot of the cross, wonder why and still believe things will be better. With support we make things better. With support we become the resurrection.
Tell your friends I have a million reasons why sending money to us is a good bet. However, Haiti does have other good organizations doing great work. So back to the donor and their wishes. I am always happy when people support our work – we depend on this support. I am also always happy when people support other good organizations
He is just a baby but somehow he looks older, I sat behind him, in our mini bus, on the way down to our rehab centre -about a 90 minute trip- less if no traffic. His mother held him tight and told me she had not yet dressed him, “ I took him straight from his bed, it is too early to get him dressed, too chilly this early’ It was 6am- she was right! On the way down, it started to get bright and as we left the cool mountain air behind us, the mother started to get her little man ready for the day. First came the wipes, then the cute check shirt and cool pants. With loving hands she wiped away the sleep from his soft face and his cuddly body. I got to hold him for a few minutes when she was making up his bottle. I felt honoured to be holding this special little boy. We chatted and he happily drank his milk.
She told me where she lives and I groaned a little, as it is far from where we live and even farther from our rehab center. I told her I had been there some years back and I never forgot the awful road-that was just loose rocks, and how it went down and down and down and there seemed to be no end to the road or the rocks, and really to call it a road was to be very generous!! ‘The road is much better now’ she said.
She has three other kids, two are living in Port Au Prince so they can go to secondary school. ‘’You know we have no secondary school in our area” The other is just four and he lives with her and her husband. They work the land. It is not easy to make a living. They borrowed money to plant a plot of leeks. The harvest was bad- too much rain. They did not even make enough to pay back what they borrowed. She does not know how she will pay back her debt. School is about to start- she has no idea how she will send her kids to school. The four year old was due to start school- he is very smart she said. He will have to wait another year. All her money is spent looking after her baby. He has many problems. Since he was born she is up and down to hospital with him. To go to our rehab she has to leave her house and stay with friends, she comes to stay with them the day before, and then she can get a lift up and down in our bus. The day I spoke to her she had not been home in four days.
I wish ye could have seen how lovingly she cared for her little boy- Everything was done with great skill, and great love-the bus was moving fast enough and the road is very windy- to undress and dress a little baby as we were zipping along- no small feat. “when he was born he was unable to breast feed- his jaws would not work “she said.
She told me she never leaves him with neighbours, she does not want anything to happen to him. “I never left my kids with others kids are innocent, you need to make sacrifices for them. I can go hungry, but I will not leave him- a neighbour left her 9 month old baby with her older kids and she went to sell in the market, she was out the whole day. When she came back she found her baby dead- he had fallen out of the bed or something. You should never leave kids to watch over kids. I never did that with mine. I will never do it”
Her oldest kid has finished secondary school. I congratulated her. She worries about what he will do next as she cannot pay further studies and there is no employment to be found. ‘When you are brought up a certain way, and your parents were not able to do many things for you, you yourself have to try to do better for your kids. So they don’t resent you, when they are older. Better that they see you did all you could, even if it was not enough, than they think you did not try. I believe in education for my kids’
The little boy was coughing- a lot.
“He has a lot of secretions – it bothers him. When he is crying, YOU might not notice, he does not cry like other kids- you have to know him well, to notice when he is crying- the sound does not really come out’
I wish you could have seen her brush his hair. He has lovely hair. And a lot of it – curly. The gentle way she did it, making her beautiful 8 month old baby even more beautiful than he already was. I was entranced, I was in awe. So much attention to getting it just right. My tears took me by surprise, even now as I write these words tears have filled my eyes. If you had been there I bet you would have teared up also. You know how it is when you witness something so beautiful, so powerful, so intense- and you feel your heart will expand right out of your chest? Remember that great line from Alisyon Moyet- ‘I go weak, weak in the presence of beauty” Tis a good line for how I felt!
Well anyway, I sent them to the hospital instead of Physical Therapy and some hrs later they were back in the mini bus, on their way back up the mountain again- with meds for the cough. I presume she did not eat at all that day in the hospital. We gave her therapy appointments for consecutive days so at least she can go home for the rest of the week. Normally twice a week PT appointments are not on consecutive days.
This morning at 6am as I was giving something to the driver, I heard a ‘Bonjou Madam Gena- kreyol for hello Mme. Gena. There they were in the darkness. He was wrapped up and she was holding him tight. I helped them into the mini bus and then handed her, her two bags- one maroon color and one black. I noticed the colours because to me these were no ordinary bags. I knew what was inside those bags. I knew they carried the instruments for the acts of love that would be carried out on the way down. I lifted them with reverence.
I was not going down today. She must be at home in her own home tonight. Holding him tight.
Gena Heraty, 31 August 2021
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