You would never guess from single mother Fabiola Tattegais’ cheerful demeanour the kind of turmoil she endured following the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010.
A small-trader by occupation, Fabiola was in the home of a client when the earthquake struck. Finding the way to the front door blocked, Fabiola dived under a table as the house collapsed around her. She was knocked unconsciousness. When she awoke, she found herself pinned by rubble. She cried out for help, but those who could hear her were preoccupied with problems of their own. Eventually, a man came to help. He broke up large pieces of concrete with a hammer in a bid to get her out. She was almost free, but her foot remained trapped.
In agony, Fabiola appealed to the man to cut off the end of her foot so she could be released. Yet he could not bring himself to do it. At Fabiola’s insistence, he handed her a knife and she cut off the end of her foot herself. “At the time it was not too painful, but after I finished it was excruciating,” Fabiola recalls.
Once free, Fabiola was taken for treatment at a field hospital in a tent hastily set up for earthquake survivors. Fabiola could not stop worrying about her 8-year-old son Fabert, who had been staying with relatives when the earthquake hit. “I was really afraid, I was crying,” she says. It was four days before she connected with Fabert on the phone and discovered he was okay.
Sadly, she was far from okay herself. Her wound became infected and doctors eventually had to amputate most of her leg below the knee. Having lost all her stock in the earthquake, Fabiola now faced the daunting prospect of trying to support herself and her son while getting around on crutches and a prosthetic leg. If things were not difficult enough, Fabiola’s one-room home can only be accessed via a steep, rickety, metal staircase. In her desperation, she turned to World Vision for help.
The biggest difficulities are often psychological rather than physical
According to World Vision Haiti’s Disability Manager, Jony Saint Louis, who assists scores of earthquake amputees, Fabiola’s predicament is common. He adds that sometimes the biggest difficulty for amputees to overcome is psychological rather than physical. He says expectations for people with disabilities are low in Haiti. Many people think all they are fit for is begging on the streets. “This increases disabled people’s depression,” he says. “One of our jobs is to help them believe in their own capacity and work with them to help them go forward. Pity can decrease self-esteem and decrease autonomy,” says Saint Louis.
Jony gathers amputees for esteem-building and motivation seminars from people such as Joni Eareckson Tada, an inspirational speaker and writer left paralysed following a diving accident. “I love talking to them about Joni; how she has worked through her difficulties and gone on to help other people with disabilities,” he says.
Once amputees have regained confidence, they are given training to develop their own businesses. People are then eligible for grants to help get their lives back on track. A first grant of $200 is non-conditional. However if the money has been used productively Jony invites amputees to submit a business plan and, upon approval, they are given a second grant of $200 to start up their own business.
Fabiola spent her first grant on school fees so her son could return to school. She will use the next grant to establish a small grocery business. Jony was impressed that she had worked out what product lines were lacking in her neighbourhood and was tailoring her plans accordingly. At first, he was sceptical about Fabiola’s plan to travel by ‘tap-tap’ (converted pickup trucks that function as buses in Haiti) to outlying areas to purchase from suppliers of hard-to-find items. He felt that such journeys would be impossible for an amputee. He changed his mind when he saw Fabiola negotiate the hazardous stairs to her home. “She has shown me she can do it and she will,” he says.
Fabiola has similar high praise for Jony. “When I met him I felt life will be better for me,” she says. “He gave me so much beautiful advice — about how to manage business, how to sell, and how to buy.”