Movement is Life: Establishing Sustainable Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Services in Haiti

Introducing our newest Guestblogger & One of the Co-founders of STAND: The Haiti Project

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1.  How did you first get involved in Haiti?
 
The older I’ve become, the less I want to just be a tourist. I love to interact, to learn, to be engaged. But it feels better to me when I can give something back. It is a privilege bigger than we perceive to simply have the ability, the permission, to travel. That is hard to appreciate until you have met amazing people around the world who do not have the ability to even leave their city, who have never seen the ocean that exists a mere 50km away, whose government will not issue them a passport for fear that they will not return. I am a privileged person; so I should not only appreciate this, but also use it to positively affect others.
 
My involvement in Haiti specifically was a perfect mix of chance and timing. An opportunity arose and I jumped in with both feet! After four treatment trips to Haiti, four of us decided to start a new organization: STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development). We truly believe that building an effective rehabilitation profession in Haiti is the sustainable answer to Haiti’s lack of care, so now we are working hard to make this a reality.
 
2.  What drew you to Haiti?
 
I have always loved being a PT, really working with people, getting to know more than their injury, being able to affect them both physically and psychologically is so interesting and amazing. But I know that there is more out there. Human ‘health’ is a very broad topic and one that interests me immensely. So many factors, likely more than we will ever realize exist, can contribute to how a person feels and how they spend their life. Being and feeling healthy can vary between people, cultures, populations, age…. etc.
 
Working in Haiti has given me a new perspective on my skills as a physical therapist and has made me want to get better and learn more.Treating people who have never had access to Westernized health care, ever, reminds me of the true breadth of my knowledge and skills. That statement sounds a bit egotistical, but really it’s a reflection of the fact that I am used to working in a society and culture that has access not only to medical care, but also information. In Haiti, I am the doctor, the nurse, the PT. All I have are my hands and my brain. For many people, I am the last stop, the only stop, so I want to be good, as good as I can be.
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3.  Can you describe the work that STAND is doing in Haiti?  
 
Boy can I ever!
 
There are two main goals that STAND is focused on: providing rehabilitative care to those with pain and disability in Haiti AND creating Haitian specialists that can provide the same care, eventually rendering volunteer physical therapists in Haiti unnecessary.
 
The volunteer groups are generally comprised of physical therapists, prosthetists, and orthotists. We treat patients in Port-de-Paix (NW Haiti) from dawn to dusk. Our team addresses orthopedic issues (eg. chronic spine pain), neurological injuries (stroke or spinal cord injury), and pediatric cases; we treat chronic non-healing wounds and build arms and legs for amputees. While we can’t help everyone who walks through the door, we give everything we can to every case, whether it be tap-tap accident or shark attack. The crazy things we have seen while treating in Haiti is a book waiting to be written. Perhaps that can be my next project once rehab medicine is established in Haiti! 😉
 
4.  What prompted the creation of STAND’s motto, “Movement is life”?
I wish I could say it was a stroke of genius, but it actually felt more blasé in the moment! While creating the donations page for STAND’s new website, we came up with the phrase ‘Movement is life.’ We were wanting something short and sweet, something to really tug at the heart strings, and that’s what we came up with. But the more we said it out loud, the more we realized how true it rang; not only to Haiti’s situation, but to humanity.
 
In the states, when you have pain or are injured, there are support structures: health care, insurance, disability pay, family to reach out to… If you can’t work, there are systems in place; if you can’t walk, you can take mass transit or use your smartphone to get work done. In Haiti, if you can’t walk, you’ve lost your independence and your participation in society. If you can’t work, your family will likely go hungry. Movement… is life!
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5.  In addition to the medical services you provide, STAND also offers a training program for future medical professionals. Why do you think that training is such an important part of the work that you do?  
 
Providing care for the people of Port-de-Paix for a few weeks out of the year is helpful and important and meaningful, but it’s just a big band-aid that covers a wound that just won’t heal. We put it on every time we go, but it keeps falling off after we leave and the wound stays infected and never heals.
 
The people of Haiti cannot (and will not always!) rely on the kindness of medical practitioners abroad volunteering their time to provide specialty care and services. NGOs lose funding, people get busy, organizational founders get burnt out. Volunteerism and accepting the assistance of strangers are not sustainable solutions for Haiti, nor are they what Haitians would tell you they want.
 
The people of Haiti are intelligent and ingenuitive. They have the wits and will, they only lack the access to information. So that’s what we aim to provide. With the help of a few established PT schools, we are currently devising a curriculum, specific to our years of treating patients in Haiti, that will be taught to those living in Port-de-Paix. At first, volunteers from abroad will not only treat during their time in Haiti, but also help us to teach. Eventually, Haitian therapists will take over the clinics that STAND establishes, as well as the educational aspect, supplying the people of Port-de-Paix with consistent access to treatment.
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Want to learn more about STAND: The Haiti Project and the work they’re doing in Port Paix?  Visit their website at http://www.standhaitiproject.org/, like them on Facebook, or follow them @STANDHaiti!
And don’t forget to stay tuned for more posts from Morgan!
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