Glimmers of Hope in Times of Extreme Hardship

Karl-Heinz Burghardt and Johanna Haebler travel to Haiti on behalf of the Otto Bock Foundation

Decades of poverty are followed by the devastating earthquake in January 2010. Hurricanes and flooding during the rainy season hamper cleanup efforts. Then cholera breaks out, infecting and killing hundreds of people. Presidential elections are supposed to bring stability, but are overshadowed by severe unrest. The situation remains tense as Haiti is pummelled by one disaster after another. Karl-Heinz Burghardt and Johanna Haebler, the manager and coordinator of the project "Children in Need - Relief for Haiti", have travelled to the crisis region in order to establish the next steps for the Otto Bock foundation in conjunction with local partners. Otto Bock HealthCare covered the cost of the trip.

Street in Port-au-Prince

Getting a first-hand impression of the fitting situation for amputees and obtaining a better understanding of the overall situation in the country first of all required risk management, for example through vaccinations for the best possible protection. Cholera had just started spreading further. "Doctors in the country told us that people who live under conditions of poor hygiene or are already suffering from health problems are at particularly high risk," Haebler reports.

Karl-Heinz Burghardt with trainees.

In a mobile orthopaedics workshop in Logne, a project of the Johanniter foreign aid organisation, the Duderstadt delegation met six trainees who have been training there for several months. The Otto Bock Foundation intends to help them study orthopaedics technology by providing scholarships. Qualified education can make a lasting contribution towards better fittings in the country. "All candidates stated that their primary reason for pursuing this career is to help others, followed by the desire to build a secure future for themselves," says Burghardt, summarising the discussions with the candidates aged 20 to 27 years.

The Johanniter organisation is an Otto Bock cooperation partner. Their fitting camp in Logne at the epicentre of the earthquake has already provided artificial legs for numerous amputees. "Approximately 200 are currently still on the waiting list," Haebler tells us. Haitians gather under a shade tree next to the mobile workshop. What appears like an idyllic scene quickly turns out to be an impressively professional open-air therapy session: "The atmosphere is very moving. People who have lost everything are opening up, receiving physical and mental support from well-trained staff."

Glimmers of hope in a country where a return to some kind of normality currently doesn't mean much more than dealing with the consequences of the catastrophe. "The streets are noisy, dirty and crowded. Traffic chaos reigns. Incredible numbers of peddlers are trying to sell anything you can imagine. Everyone is just trying to get by any way they can," is how Haebler summarises her impressions. Hundreds of thousands are living in temporary refugee camps or on the streets - without running water or sanitary facilities. Even though a lot of rubble has been cleared away, many ruins remain standing exactly the way they were the day after the earthquake.

Tent city in Port-au-Prince

"Aid is being provided," Burghardt reports. "But it's clear that sustainable concepts and a great deal of patience are going to be needed here." Around 1.5 million people are living in tent cities, the largest of which has a population of more than 50,000. As strange as it may seem: for some people this situation represents an improvement. "Homeless people who lived on the streets before the earthquake - we are talking in the range of 300,000 to 500,000 - at least have a tent to call home now."

Mobile clinics have been set up in a few tent cities. "But many Haitians don't even know about the services available to them, and seek medical assistance far too late," Haebler says. The lack of information is also related to the illiteracy rate, which is estimated at 50 percent. Poor people cannot afford education since schooling costs money.

Many of the aid organisations on site are currently providing prosthetic and orthotic fittings. They are eager to keep in contact with Otto Bock and the Otto Bock Foundation. Immediate assistance is being provided in this time of need. However, efforts to actually rebuild the country are only just beginning. "The Otto Bock Foundation is going to participate," Burghardt assures us. "There is still a huge demand for just about everything."

Dancing Again

Georg Exantus

One of the encounters offering hope is a meeting with 28-year-old professional salsa dancer Georg Exantus. "We met him during the opening of a new rehabilitation centre, and then again at the inauguration of another orthopaedic workshop," Haebler says. He had to have a lower leg amputation after the earthquake. Doctors at the rehabilitation centre asked Otto Bock for a certain prosthetic foot, which was subsequently donated by the company. "Georg was now able to resume his profession. He is dancing again."

"We continue to consider sponsoring patient fittings on a case-by-case basis in response to requests," Burghardt confirms. This was the case for the first time in April, when Otto Bock HealthCare sent Harry Zenner, a prosthetist with experience in foreign countries, to Haiti for a period of four weeks. "Some children have been waiting for months to get a prosthesis. This is something we want to tackle, coordinating and pursuing our efforts with our contacts in the capital. We are thankful to the donors who are supporting our activities."

Otto Bock Foundation donation account:

Sparkasse Duderstadt
ABA: 260 512 60
account number: 448
IBAN DE16 2605 1260 0000 0021 21

Volksbank Eichsfeld-Northeim
ABA: 260 612 91
account number: 178 004 0
IBAN DE90 2606 1291 0001 7800 40

Keyword: "Hilfe fr Haiti"

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