Single mother Demosi Louphine lost both an arm and a leg in the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Jony Saint Louis, a physical therapist and manager of World Vision’s disability program, gently massages the short stump that is all that remains of Demosi’s right arm, trying to evaluate whether it is strong enough for a prosthetic limb. Demosi already has a prosthetic leg. “Sometimes she feels weakness, and sometimes she feels cramp,” Jony says. “I’ll show her how to massage the stump and put on a bandage. The bandage will prepare the stump for the prosthetic.”
Soon, Jony will also help Demosi develop a business plan so she can start a small grocery business and support her two daughters. World Vision will give her a grant to get the business started. Demosi badly needs some money. In addition to losing limbs, she lost her home and cosmetics stall in the earthquake. Demosi and her daughters live in Corail, 10 kilometres from the capital, Port-au-Prince, in a tent camp which houses thousands displaced and homeless due to the earthquake.
Most importantly, Jony provides encouragement. Sometimes the biggest difficulty for amputees to overcome is psychological rather than physical. Jony says expectations for people with disabilities area 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.”
Among the favourite sayings Jony shares with his patients is a Haitian proverb. It translates roughly as “Better to become stronger than be discouraged.” For Jony, these are not trite words. He learned their value through painful personal experience.
Jony lost his wife Annia, when their home collapsed during the earthquake. When Jony arrived at the scene, it took him eight hours to clear away the rubble to free Annia. The memory continues to haunt him. Even today, he sleeps in a tent rather than a house, fearing he might one day be similarly trapped.
When Annia was pulled free, she was alive but seriously injured and in terrible pain. Annia was a doctor and realised her kidneys had been badly damaged. Jony helped her onto the back of his motorcycle and raced around the overwhelmed city hospitals in a desperate bid to get Annia admitted. By the time she received the help she needed it was too late. Annia died four days after the earthquake.
As well as losing his home and his wife, Jony lost his job. The humanitarian organisation he worked for ceased to function. Even so, when World Vision called him asking him to come in for a job interview to manage the organisation’s disability program, he did not want to go. Jony was filthy as he had spent a month sleeping rough with only one change of pants and one extra shirt. Nevertheless, he sensed his wife whispering, I will be with you honey, go. Jony turned up for the interview. “They didn’t see how dirty I was, they saw what I could offer,” he says.
Today, Jony is glad he landed the job. The work has become an integral part of his healing. “I pray every day and ask the Lord to give me an opportunity to put a smile on the face of somebody else,” he says. If I can do that, I will be happy.”
“And when I think about my wife it’s very helpful for me,” he says. “When she was living, she took part in all my work for people with disabilities. Through my work, she continues to live in me and live with me.”