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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wings of Hope

I know that Blake already blogged about his Wings of Hope experience, but I thought I would write mine out as well..

Sundays are our only day off (we work saturdays 6am-1pm). Eric, the pastor for the Nebraska group, asked if we wanted to join their group and head up to Wings.

Wings of Hope is a partner organization with St. Josephs Home for Boys (which is where we are staying and working). Wings was started 15 years ago as a safe haven for Haitian kids with disabilities. In their culture, kids born with disabilites are said to be bad omens and curses on the parents. There is not one special education public school program. Not one. Most kids born with special needs are put in dumpsters, left to die or flat out left at the hospital.

The goal of Wings is to provide a small, live-in space where kids of all abilities can thrive and grow. Blake and I were both so pumped to check out Wings, both because it sounds so inspiring and also from our background of working with special needs kids.

The original Wings structure was destroyed in the quake, so they bought two huge houses (by haitian standards) to settle into until the recontruction begins. Right now, there are 38 kids (and a few young adults) residing at Wings. Most of the kids have no medical or famiy history, so there are no formal diagnosis. Also, because disabilites are frowned upon, there is no diagnostic criteria available. Grrrr.

KC (director of Wings) told us they have 32 staff. Great, right?! Only ten of them work on educating the kids. On Sundays, there are four staff for all 38 kids. While we were there, we went upstairs, and saw 18 kids, all physically handicapped or bedridden, and two staff. The staff were sitting on the balcony, just talking. One boy was covered in poop with a broken foot and another was spitting at us and attempting to break his crib and jump ship.

They have a tiny open floor space, maybe 20x15 feet (remember, temp housing, but still...) While we were there, there were 17 of us, one staff, and 11 kids, along with one wagon, two drums, three couches, a guitar and six scooters. Ummm, talk about chaos... Blake and I were ridiculously overwhelmed. Don't even mention the seven kids (by my count) with autism.

We were there for four hours. The kids attend school m-f for a few hours. They all recieve both physical and occupational therapy in 30 min blocks a few times a week. The staff have no written goals or IEPs, they don't have anything resembling a sensory room, don't do touch or behavorial therapy. Most kids are non-verbal, but they don't teach sign. When we were there, most people were afraid of giving boundaries (not us... Boundaries is my middle name) so the kids were running around taking water bottles, cameras and sunscreen. It was crazy.

I guess my overall feeling is pretty mixed. I understand the hurdles and the money issues. It's so hard to pay trained Americans to live and teach here; a lot of humans are afraid of Haiti. They are in a country with no regard to special needs. It's a great thing to take in these kids that were left and unloved. But on the other hand, as an american with years of special needs experience, a place like this is almost identical to the asylums in America in the 50s. How is this country so, so far behind?!? And how do we help?!

Last thing, Blake and I met a young woman named vivianne. She is around 13 and deaf. She speaks in her own language, knows some sign and is very expressive with her actions. She is super smart. I know some signing, so I had a fun time communicating with here. Most of the signs she knew were in English. So interesting. She was explaining to me her account of the quake. Terrifiying. She said everything was shaking and falling. And it was loud like thunder and all the kids that couldn't walk couldn't get out. She said she was crying and running. Ugh. My heart was breaking.

The most interesting thing I have learned is that Haitians had no idea what an earthquake was. No idea. They all thought it was really the end of the world. I couldn't imagine.

I have a great pic of vivianne and I, but it's on the camera. Birthday party downstairs I need to be at. No pictures tonight!

Thanks for reading everybody!

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