Friday, January 8, 2016

Mental Health Hope

According to my new friend and Psychologist, Erika, basic physical health needs aren't met in Port au Prince, let alone mental health. She came to Haiti three years ago to volunteer her services as a Psychology professor at a small university. Her intentions were to stay no more than a year, but it's almost been three. The needs were too great to leave.

I was curious about her services and asked about her work. She gave me an example of the help she gives. A woman with a seven month old Down Syndrome babu came to Erika for help. The woman's husband is abusive, and while pregnant, he kicked her stomach. When the baby was born, her family was angry that she took the abuse from her husband and blamed her for the baby's DS. The doctor was angry she didn't have the baby in a hospital where they wouldn't have let him live. The priest told her the baby was born with DS because of her sin, and the voodou priest told her someone had cast a spell on her.

Overwhelmed, I asked, "How did you help her?"

"Well, I couldn't debunk her culture, but I did tell her that DS was caused from a genetic anomaly and I gave her the name of another mother with a DS child so they could support one another."

Once a week Erika takes an on-the-back of a motorcycle taxi to a hospital to work with head trauma patients--many whose injuries came from a motorcycle taxi ride. She knows the danger, but she needs to help. She's compelled to help.

Since I too am compelled to help, I ask her what the clinic's greatest needs are. "If I could have one thing, it would be a car so me and my staff could get to all the places we need to be."

My mind fills with all of the recent encounters with Haitian cars. First of all, there are no emission inspections. To walk near a car crowded street is near asphyxiation. Most of the cars are dented, old and junk yard wanna-be's. But they keep on chugging with the help of road side card tables set up with oil, gas, and a few tools.

"How much would a car cost?"

"For a car we could mostly depend on, it would cost $5000."

Our friend Yann has borrowed his friends car for the trip to the orphanage. It's relatively new, at least compared to the almost entire fleet of Haitian vehicles--but a door doesn't open, the glove box won't close and one of the side mirrors was yanked off. His friend bought it new, but in order to release it from the port, he had to pay a series of taxes and bribes that totaled $6000. It's why Erika would be happy with a $5000 semi-dependable car.

Check out Erika's work: or the facebook page: Espere Community Counseling Center.

Espere is the French word for HOPE.