Following the 2010 earthquake, thousands of severely injured Haitians had their limbs amputated or faced other permanent disabilities. They needed rehabilitation and assistive devices like prostheses to walk again.
However, there were only a handful of local rehabilitation and orthopedic technicians in the whole country. Handicap International and other organizations flew in specialists from overseas to cope with the massive needs. But, bringing in outsiders was not a sustainable solution to the ongoing needs of people with disabilities in Haiti.
To address this challenge, Handicap International started Haiti’s first training program for rehabilitation and orthopedic technicians in 2012. In February, the first class of 23 students in the orthopedic program will finish their final exams. Already, they are working with patients and crafting the devices each individual needs to walk.
James Medina, one of the program’s top students, had his own leg amputated after the earthquake and received a prosthesis and physical therapy from Handicap International. When he regained his independence he asked the organization to provide him with training so that he could help other people with disabilities walk again.
“For me, the most important thing when I’m dealing with someone who has an amputation like myself is motivation—it’s very important,” says James. “During a prosthesis fitting, I talk to the person and I tell them ‘you can do many things with your prosthesis—you can even do more than me. See how I walk.’ I want to motivate them so that they adapt to their prostheses. I tell them, ‘I will help you to walk as you did before.’”
Because of the support of Handicap International donors and partners like USAID, Haiti is now better equipped to meet the long-term needs of earthquake victims and other people with disabilities.
This year, Haiti will have 23 newly qualified orthopedic technicians as well as 70 new rehabilitation technicians who will manage the care of thousands of people with disabilities.