Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kay Elian and Horse Back Riding

Continuing my observing and meeting all the kids and staff this week- things were a bit hectic at the end of last week with the funeral and all, so I’ll probably be starting the kids in the water next week.

I’ve been speaking to Norma and the other physical therapists a lot about what exercises to do with the kids in the water to best use their muscles to make it therapy while they’re learning to swim. I’ve met so many children this week who have had meningitis which went untreated for too long and left lasting brain damage. It’s difficult to determine which children are just physically handicapped, because so many will make eye contact with you, acknowledge your words and smile when you touch them but cannot speak and have never properly been taught to communicate in other ways. Truly, each one of these children needs a physical and occupational therapist as well as a speech pathologist, but with little access and no money, most only have the physical therapy NPFS provides at no cost. Some of these high functioning children have mild retardation, while others do not but will always lapse behind their age group, missing developmental stages and not experiencing regular life events due to their physical disabilities. This is where my psychology background comes in, as I’ve studied the developmental milestones quite a bit, and am familiar with the parts of the brain that affect the different functions. I help out with the therapy, holding a child in place while a therapist helps them stretch, or helping extend limbs to strengthen muscles while Norma tells me about each child’s issues.

Yesterday, I went with some of the Kay Christine children from Kenscoff to ride horses, a very useful form of physical therapy. We drove with 6 kids toward Tabarre, through the usual impoverished areas when you can barely stand to breathe in the smells of the raw sewage, the burning garbage and the pollution. We turned off the main paved road (very poorly paved, I might add) onto a dirt road which was calmer but still very far below any poverty line. We went through a gate and suddenly, it was like we weren’t even in a third world country anymore. It was an actual ranch, with a pasture, a gorgeous house, a stable with 15 horses and a field to ride them in. We sat on a covered stone porch while the children rode and just enjoyed the place. It was beautiful, with tall stone walls covered in purple flowers, a pool and views of the mountains in the distance. I could not fathom that less than a quarter mile away was that place where I literally was afraid to breathe deeply. There is beauty to Haiti off the main roads, locked far behind fences and gate keepers and unreachable to the poor.

Today, I stayed in Petionville, going downstairs to Kay Elian to sit in on therapy sessions there. Norma travels to all locations to teach the Haitian therapists techniques and strategies, and today, she was at Kay Elian. We have multiple therapy rooms at each center, but typically we have both therapists in one room, each working with a child. This allows Norma to help them at the same time. One of the therapists told me he attended just one year of technical school, and learns the rest from Norma and other volunteers who come. Everyone I encounter believes me to be a physical therapist and when I say, no, I’m here to work with the special needs kids and just finished college, they believe me to be a licensed psychologist because I majored in psychology. I’ve had several ask if I went to school for swimming to be qualified to teach in the pool and is there money in this field of employment? I took swimming lessons when I was 4 and passed a test to get into the big girl section of the lake at girl scout camp, but that about tops my professional training and accomplishments.

I met several adorable children, including Jefferson who I took into a room and worked with individually for awhile. His meningitis left him with motor skill issues and unable to speak, though he can walk if he has a wall to hold onto (falling often, and popping right back up). He’s about 3 years old, and loved when I picked him up and spun him around. I started counting un…deux…TROIS and spinning or bouncing on three, and when he figured out the pattern, he started to make a sound at each number. He knew exactly what was happening, and when I stopped counting (he’s a big boy and my arms were tired!) he kept right on grunting ugh…ugh… UGH until I would bounce him on the third. He’s one of the children that will always fall behind his age group, but is making so much progress and will be able to walk and hopefully, communicate more someday. I worked with him on muscle extension, holding out things for him to grab and guiding them into a cup or something. He was a goofball though, and just wanted to play after awhile.

The most stressful thing I’ve done yet is buy a cell phone with Jackie, one of the drivers who grew up at Kenscoff. He took me to the store to get one, and I had no idea what they were saying in their mixed creole-french but it all worked out and I now have a phone (though I haven’t bought the minutes yet). So congratulations, Molly, you now have 3 cell phones in this country, one which has your numbers in it but can’t call anyone, a global phone for calling the parents while travelling here, and this new one which has no use as of yet without minutes. I also couldn’t get the language setting off Spanish and had to ask one of the boys to help me. I have no idea how I have 3 phones, only 4 pairs of shoes, and literally 10 mosquito bites on my left leg.

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