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05 July 2012

Paralympian visits disability sport centre in Haiti

Paralympian visits disability sport centre in Haiti

Team GB paralympian Anne Wafula Strike took time out from training for this summer's games last month, to visit Haiti Hospital Appeal (HHA), in northern Haiti.

Wheelchair sprinter Anne travelled as a BMS World Mission partner to meet Haiti's Paralympic hopefuls at Haiti Hospital Appeal's disability sports facilities and rehab centre. 

She also took time to support HHA's work for children living with disabilities from some of the poorest communities in the Western hemisphere. She joined the team at HHA's respite home, which provides a programme of specialised care including physiotherapy, education and development to more than 40 children.  

The highlight of her trip was meeting  Josue Cajuste, who will represent Haiti at the Paralympics competing for shot and javelin titles and earthquake survivor Leon Gaysil, hoping one day to become Haiti's first ever paralympian handcyclist.   

Anne encouraged and inspired them as they work towards competing on the world stage.  "I've learned so much from them…. Cajuste is such a star. Here he's someone with a disability who's been marginalised, who's regarded as useless in the community, but he will be representing and flying the flag of Haiti in London this summer.  That is so powerful." 

Anne spent time speaking in communities where a huge stigma is attached to children with disabilities; children like Esther, who was found on a rubbish dump in the city and brought to HHA by a local government worker, and three-year-old Jeffie, who has hydrocephelus and severe learning difficulties. 

Jeffie lives in one of the poorest areas of the city and is supported by HHA's community based rehabilitation team. Her family have been victims of heavy abuse in the community because of a lack of understanding of her condition and a stigma associated with disability that gives rise to fear and rejection. 

The HHA team have worked here, visiting schools, churches and groups to help raise awareness and understanding about disabilities so that Jeffie and others like her can find acceptance and nurturing instead of rejection and abuse.

Reflecting on her time working with the team, Kenyan born Anne commented: "It's been a very powerful experience visiting Haiti Hospital Appeal and seeing how people are being given a new lease of life. It's been a huge blessing spending time with the young kids at the centre. The smiles on their faces touched me and it reminded me of when I was young and in that situation and growing up with a disability. Somebodycame to Africa and invested in me, and I am who I am today because of the sacrifices other people made. And it's a challenge to me that we can all make a difference to these young lives."

Anne summed up her week in Haiti as a very emotional trip. "It's been incredible. We've seen a lot of poverty…. it was as though we'd just entered a forgotten world, this is something you'd only read of in books. We've seen how people living with disabilities are greatly marginalised. What I've learnt from the people of Haiti is that there's a lot of determination….  It has really changed the way I look at life. It has changed my priorities in life."

Haiti Hospital Appeal is looking for others who want to change lives this summer by fundraising or volunteering their time. Email sarah@haitihospitalappeal.org or call 020 8462 5256.

Read our interview with Anne Wafula Strike in the Paralympic Glory article on page 28-29 in the July/August edition of idea magazine.

For more articles and stories on the Olympics please go to our special Olympics webpage