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Behind the headlines: Haiti's nursing homes

18 May 2010

Arriving in the town of Leogane, the scene is like a disaster film: Almost everything is destroyed.

The buildings that remain are extremely damaged. They will have to be destroyed or will have to go through major reparations. Since 12 January, a big part of the assistance from HelpAge has been routed to this region.

Everything will have to be rebuilt

In Leogane, two older people's nursing homes have existed for several years: Asile Village de Jesus (for women) led by Sister Marie Lourde as well as Asile St. Vincent de Paul directed by Sister Claudette and her assistant Sister Sœurette.

The Asile Village de Jesus nursing home was badly damaged, leaving sister Marie Lourde and her team sleeping outside under tents. The St. Vincent de Paul nursing home, on the other hand, has irreparable damage. Everything will have to be rebuilt.

Sister Claudette

At the Asile St. Vincent de Paul nursing home, sister Claudette denies no one. In addition to more than 100 older people, several disabled children find shelter here. Despite the magnitude of the damage, Sister Claudette mobilised her team to relocate her residents and 300 children attending primary school within the walls of the nursing home.

The most urgent need was to build temporary shelters for the older people. HelpAge initially got involved to help the nursing home with the removal and disposal of the rubble. Within weeks, Sister Claudette was able to reopen the dispensary, the refectory, sanitary facilities, rooms and finally the school.

Energetic, passionate and dedicated to older people

I observe her moving quickly from one place to another and explain everything that remains to be done to enable the residents to maintain hope and dignity. These people often reach one hundred years of age, she tells me, and she knows them all by their first names and takes time to greet them one by one.

Why this energy and passion for older people, I ask? Sister Claudette explains: "When I was younger I saw my mother take care of her own mother with a dedication without end. I've known since then I'd do the same thing in my own way". To cope with the emergency, Sister Claudette was able to rely on help from HelpAge: food, medicine and our "wellbeing kits".

Sister Claudette explains that many should continue to participate in activities such as gardening, singing or crafts to maintain their morale. "Keeping an active life and feeling useful remains a priority for our residents " says Sister Claudette. In terms of psychological support, Sister Claudette plans to organise recreational outings to the coast.

Training is desperately needed

Sister Claudette insists that there is no abuse in her nursing home, however she does recognise that her staff needs training. She explains that she regularly holds training, but this needs to be more specific to the needs of older people.

This is how HelpAge wants to continue to collaborate with different nursing homes in Haiti, by strengthening the capacities of all involved, the older people and their carers. Psychological support, physical facilities, food supplies, the specific medical and care needs of older people, all need to be improved here.

Mlle Maillard, an older carer at the St Jean de Dieu nursing home

"I'm originally from Petit-Goave. I started working with the St Jean de Dieu nursing home in 1976 with a committee, Commité Feminin d'Action Sociale, and we build this nursing home.

"When the earthquake happened, I was in a meeting in my house and I saw a chair fly across the room but I didn't feel anything. I quickly ran to the nursing home. I was relieved to see that the building hadn't fallen down completely but we have a lot of damage.

An engineer told us that the building was safe but we have six tents where we house 30 women and 43 men. We are struggling a lot, and we have issues keeping the staff happy because sometimes we can't pay them.

"Nursing is my lifelong project"

"We've received a lot of help from HelpAge. With HelpAge's help we are able to feed the residents three times a day, we are able to repair the walls of the nursing home, and we improved the bathrooms. There is still a lot to be done, we want to be able to pay a doctor for check up and we want be ready if there is another emergency.

"We have a lot of projects planned ahead. We hope to open an arts and crafts shop where we would be able to sell our residents' work to support the nursing home.

"Nursing is my lifelong project. Last year everyone thought I was going to die because I had a brain haemorrhage but these people kept me alive. We have achieved a lot together and I hope we will be able to do much more."

Read more about HelpAge's work in Haiti. 

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Author profile

Bertin Meance
Country: Haiti
Job title: Program Support Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.