2010-01-22 11:07:55

Speaking of disabilities, I have a bad feeling when I walk down the streets of Port-au-Prince; I don’t see one person who is disabled. It’s a foreboding feeling that those who are so often hidden away, rejected, forgotten, those who don’t have a voice, that they are now victims of their marginalized status. Is it really possible that here, where an estimated 10% of the population are people with disabilities, we would see only a handful hanging around the streets, looking for water or food? It’s only a nagging suspicion, an idea that comes to me when I walk among the ruins ... that people affected by a disability—physical or intellectual, have maybe, just maybe, been the first victims in this tragedy.

Excerpt from MWEN PA FOU blog with the kind permission of the author.

 

Still no news from the community in the Philippines … that’s a fact, even though it’s been several months since the deadly flood.

I decided to start this entry by talking about the Philippines, because I don’t want this blog to make the same mistake. It seems that many of you visit this blog each day—several hundred of you, in fact. That’s wonderful, and because there are so many of you, I’m going to push myself to send news continuously. Every day, if possible; if not, then every second day. L’Arche has the privilege of being a federation drawn together—despite distance—in prayer and in our hearts. I will therefore do my best to tell you about our world …

I decided to start this entry by talking about the Philippines, because I don’t want this blog to make the same mistake. It seems that many of you visit this blog each day—several hundred of you, in fact. That’s wonderful, and because there are so many of you, I’m going to push myself to send news continuously. Every day, if possible; if not, then every second day. L’Arche has the privilege of being a federation drawn together—despite distance—in prayer and in our hearts. I will therefore do my best to tell you about our world …

Mwen pa te vle rete nan fè nwa!*

I had to see it ... now I can smell it. Death: do you know what death smells like? It smells awful.

The scent of death is awful. The scent of hope is better: All the friends are here—I can see them, alive. So we’re trying to build morale, in a situation where there is little morale, so that we don’t fall over the edge into despair.

Port-au-Prince is dead. You can feel it.
Port-au-Prince is dead; you can see it.

The community is doing well, even though our nights are spent outside under the stars. Because the stars continue to be beautiful. And to say that things are going well is, above all, to say that everyone is alive. That’s already saying a lot. Seeing the ruins of the city; smelling it; hearing the stories—yes, to be alive is quite something. And that brings me to this story, not unusual and yet extraordinary, of a young woman who saved more than one person by the strength of her courage.

Marie–Pier arrived at L’Arche Carrefour on October 20th last year. Three months. Three months during which she has given all that she is to the community. And then, out of the blue, the sky falls in on her head; Mother Nature shows her strength; the tectonic plates clash and leave a country with a sad taste of deja vu. Poverty—events like this breed poverty, and it’s in catastrophes like this one that we notice it.

On the evening of the 12th, Marie-Pier displayed enormous courage in pulling neighbours, alive, out of the rubble. She and another neighbour, with lots of sweat and the help of a spade, rescued eight people. I don’t know if you know this, but here, we call that heroism. Remember it when she comes home—don’t forget her heroism, because it’s in having the courage to do what one is called upon to do each day that we discover the measure, the greatness, of individuals.

Since that night, a lot of water has gone under the bridge of our expectations. The assistants have built a makeshift shower and toilet so we can keep our own little world clean. It’s wonderful to see people working with so little, when the hope of replacing things doesn’t even exist. To think about the long term would be overwhelming—we get on with the day-to-day stuff so we don’t have time to dwell on it.
Actually, when you think about it, sleeping outside is not the end of the world. When I wake up in the morning and see Samuel, a smile on his lips, I tell myself that the situation could be worse. Never before in my life have I done this, but I’m going do it today—I thank life for having saved the community for us—it’s a pretty significant act and we can’t forget to repay it a hundredfold. Our houses are uninhabitable, but they are standing. That’s why the friends are still here.

The whole country is talking about what’s happened, about these days of no rain, but where the earth is flooded with tears. A people in mourning, that’s what it all feels like when you walk the streets. Then we get to the gates at L’Arche, eyes sore from seeing chaos, ears drained from hearing the talk of death, bodies dehydrated because of the lack of water in the city, baked like little hot rolls, in the sun of the Caribbean. We barely get through the gate and our pulse slows, our head lightens. Outside, “c’est le bordel” (“it’s a mess”), as my old uncle Henri used to say. People are sleeping in the streets, with what few things they still have—often, that means their surviving children and the clothes on their backs. In fact, it’s not complicated; outside, there are people everywhere! Then we come into the grounds of the community. Dozens and dozens of people are staying here: neighbours, the friends, the assistants, their relatives. A calm reigns here, like one of the rest stops on the road to Compostela. Everyone inside is busy, however. There are meals to prepare twice a day; the grounds have to be cleaned and prepared to accommodate the cooking, the outdoor rooms, the bathroom, a corner to wash clothes ... We look after the friends, or they look after us—it depends on what time it is. And we talk about our friends ...

It is so hard to understand what happened a few days ago in Haiti—how can I explain it simply? Especially to people who are intellectually disabled? How can I help them comprehend an incomprehensible situation? Ha! We forget, too often, that these are people of the heart before they are people of the head. What we feel, they feel too, and when we communicate things through the way we act, they get it, better than anybody else does. More than that! Even though their routine has been so dramatically shaken up, they are the ones who are adapting most easily. For some, like Samuel, the life of a gypsy—without a fixed address—is a matter for celebration. For another, like Bernadette, this is a time of prayer and of gatherings. For Joseph, it’s a time for work, where each rock moved is another step forward in cleaning up the grounds. They are discovering their own usefulness, and their own personal space in a home they now have to share with dozens of other people. Nothing is easy, not for them, nor for the assistants, but the survival of each person, especially mental survival, depends on the bonds we are developing with the community, and with the folks who are now part of it.

The needs are overwhelming—for the coming days, the coming weeks, and the coming months, too. You need to be generous. Because we have an entire community to rebuild and, to date, in the history of this country, the State has never been able to respond to the needs—even the most basic needs—of people who are disabled.

Speaking of disabilities, I have a bad feeling when I walk down the streets of Port-au-Prince; I don’t see one person who is disabled. It’s a foreboding feeling that those who are so often hidden away, rejected, forgotten, those who don’t have a voice, that they are now victims of their marginalized status. Is it really possible that here, where an estimated 10% of the population are people with disabilities, we would see only a handful hanging around the streets, looking for water or food? It’s only a nagging suspicion, an idea that comes to me when I walk among the ruins ... that people affected by a disability—physical or intellectual, have maybe, just maybe, been the first victims in this tragedy.

Will a country trying to rebuild itself be prepared to do it with the ones who are most marginalized?

For now, L’Arche is mourning the loss of two members of the Board of Directors: Schella and Marie-Cecile.

For the time being, L’Arche is trying to survive, having lost two homes.

And before we rebuild, we are going to be discovering a new community life —and that in itself is an enormous challenge.

So spread the word: L’Arche Carrefour is alive and we’ll share this life with all of you.

*I don’t want to stay in the dark, in the unknown
 

Hollee Card is the National Coordinator forL’Arche Canada, the umbrella organization that unites and serves the 29 L’Arche communities across Canada. She is also member of the International Council and Board of L’Arche.  [Read more ...]

Jacques Dufresne is the editor of  L'Encyclopédie de L'Agora. He founded the journal Critère, was columnist at  La Presse durging eight years and Le Devoir  during seven year. He organised  many colloquiums and public debates of some importance. [Read more ...]

 

Al Etmanski Al is an author, advocate and social entrepreneur specializing in innovative solutions to social challenges. He is President and co-founder of  (PLAN),  Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN). [Read more...]

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