the happiest place in haiti

Over the last few months, I've been devastated by the pain of the Haitian people.  But I've also been amazed by the joy that remains in the survivors.  One of my greatest pleasures since the earthquake has been looking at the photos of the work going on at Heartline's Hospital.  A part of this is personal - their field hospital is the place where our son Kembe spent the first three years of his life.  In every shot, I am reminded of Kembe and his friends filling those rooms with squeals of laughter.  Since the kids came home after the earthquake to be with their families, Heartline quickly went to work converting this boy's home into a field hospital for the injured.  And one would think that the laughing and dancing that once inhabited this place would be replaced with pain and mourning.  That is partly true.  But in every photo I see, I am amazed by the joy in their faces.  I was blown away a few weeks ago by a video of the patients - who lay on cots in the driveway because they are too fearful to go inside - spontaneously breaking into worship.  I'm hearing this happens most nights.

People are receiving much-needed medical care at Heartline.  There is rehabilitation for amputees, respite for general illness, and continuing midwifery care for women giving birth.  But there is also the love poured out on these people from some of the most compassionate people I've ever known.   I've stolen these photos from Beth McHoul, fearless Heartline leader.  She's lived in Haiti for 20 years.  She trains for marathons there.  She's who I want to be when I grow up.  I hope she doesn't mind me stealing her photos.  (Lucky for me she is really, really nice).

Yesterday, I read this story, and couldn't stop smiling all day.  It's from a woman named Barbie (from her blog) who is working with Heartline:

"Go online and search out Destiny's Child "I'm a Survivor". Hook up your speakers, turn the volume on high, with a whole lot of base, and with apologies to your next door neighbors, rock the house. Then close your eyes and listen to the chorus. And imagine what we saw today...

We were discouraged. We'd lost our physical therapist to a family emergency, and our patients appeared amotivated without his constant encouraging presence. Moods were low. Apathy was setting in. Oppressive heat overwhelmed our tarp covered courtyard hospital. Little six year old Dina, now in a walking cast from her open tib-fib fracture, refused to put down her crutches and bear weight on it. Afraid. Lillian, 10 year old with an externally fixated femur fracture...crying with each episode of physical therapy, more and more fearful of the pain. 59 year old Leeann, lying stoically in bed 23 hours a day, not exercising her healing leg -- going backwards in progress. Our 76 year old below-the-knee amputee Genine, needing to learn how to walk again, having a difficult time even standing up. 20 year old Amanda, with her paralyzed left arm and shattered left leg, lying sadly and disinterested in her cot, staring blankly off into the distance.

We'd hit a wall.

"We just need to get them MOVING..." one nurse said.

"Maybe we could get them to do physical therapy together..." someone else said.

"It needs to be fun," someone else said.

And so the idea spiraled. It was born from the knowledge of a perhaps little-known fact, outside of our hospital, that our Haitian patients have innate and amazing rhythm. And soul. Every night, they sing and clap and stomp together in song in impromptu mass that goes on sometimes for hours. Rocking the house. Rocking the neighborhood, over the cinderblock walls, beyond the plastic tarp that is our roof.

It was evidenced when we watched the film "Madagascar," projected one night on a white cotton sheet tied up to the cinderblock wall. In this Disney film, dubbed in French, shipwrecked zoo animals land in the wilds of Madagascar with a bunch of lemmings who break out into fabulous song, singing a hip deep base beat, "You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it...MOVE IT!!" There was nothing cooler than to watch heads start to bob and hands start to sway to the rhythm as all of the patients started to sing along to the beat.

It became obvious that our patients have rhythm.

"Let's make them exercise to "Move it!"" recommended someone else. We all laughed.

Then someone said, "No, really!"



So, somehow it happened that we pulled out the electric sound system used to project movies on the wall at night. And plugged it into Dr. Jen's computer. A quick search of her ITunes files revealed a great assortment of deep beat, hip, rhythmic dance tunes. Including the song, "You all ready for this???!!" -- normally danced to at NFL halftime shows by cheerleaders in skimpy tops and pompoms.

We walked around to each patient and said, "In a minute, we're going to turn on the music, and you will do your PT."

Some patients were assigned a helper. Amputees were given the task -- stand and balance on your strong leg, and try to squat up and down. Bilateral casted patients -- stand up with your walker and balance, then sit back down. Young Dina, who refuses to walk without her crutches...when the music starts, you will walk on your cast...with one crutch, not two. Young Lilian, who starts to cry at the idea of physical therapy -- you will stand with your crutches and just walk around. Each patient assigned a task. They all looked at us curiously, a little dubiously. A little apathetically. A generalized look that shouted...ok, perhaps whispered, disinterestedly, "Ok, whatever..."

But then, the magic happened. . .

 . . . "YOU ALL READY FOR THIS????" the song called, followed by the deep rhythmic beat of sound. Sound which suddenly dragged patients' eyes open, pulled giant smiles from their lips. Heads began to bob. Feet began to tap. Eyes came afire with life as the sound system blared its rhythm across the courtyard. I helped our 76 year old amputee onto her one leg. Her shoulders started to sway in rhythm. A smile crinkled her aged, wrinkled cheeks. Ten-year-old Lillian, afraid to stand, threw down her crutches and danced with her hips swaying and arms undulating rhythmically, balancing crutchless for the first time. Dina marched to the beat on her casted foot, then began to spin and dance. Amanda lay in her cot, brilliant smile, rhythmically rolling her shoulder to the beat. Song after song, shining smile after smile. Little Emmanuel, three year old boy with the crushed face, stood in the center of the courtyard and danced the freespirited dance of a child. Smiles and rhythm of joy. Old and young. Nurses and patients and translators and visitors. Rocked the house."

(video shot by Troy Livesay)

Haiti is still in great need, but amidst the stories of help not getting to people (YOU  NEED TO READ THIS), it's nice to see a place where it's happening.

Mark and I have made the decision to give to Heartline every month.  Haiti is going to need help rebuilding.  These are some of the people we trust will do that.  The mainstays of their ministry - a sewing school and a birthing center - will continue to help make a brighter future for the next generation in Haiti.  If you are looking for a place to give, I highly recommend Heartline.  They have been in Haiti for a long time, and your money will go to helping people directly on the ground. It will not be going to fancy escalades, or expensive clothes or haircuts for the staff (exhibit A: see the amazing John McHoul above.  Love that Boston hippie).  If you are a Heartline fan, or just like what they are doing, consider sharing this on facebook or twitter, too.  Haiti is not at the forefront of our news anymore, but the people still need our help.  Let's keeping talking.

For more check out:
Beth's Flickr
John & Beth's Blog
Barbie's Blog
The Livesay's Blog

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