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Haiti: The resilience of age

18 Feb 2010

As HelpAge's Haiti Communications Coordinator, I'm sharing one of my first experiences of the situation older people are facing here.

I visited the Asile St. Jean de Dieu, a nursing home in Petit Goave where HelpAge is assisting older people:

I learnt about the history of Asile St. Jean de Dieu from its founding director Mademoiselle Mayard, a 65 year old school teacher. Back in the 1970s, the older people of Petit Goave were housed in a high school.

With the help of the local priest, Mlle Mayard found a church and coverted it into a nursing home. Another priest in Puerto Rico heard of the project and decided to help by sending money every month for years.

Residents slept "under the stars"

However, in 1998, the assistance stopped. So for 12 years, they have relied on the church for funding. Mlle Mayard is just about able to pay staff who don't have an income and welcomes volunteers.

At the time of the quake, all the residents were inside but thankfully no one was injured or killed. However, some interior walls fell, as did some of the out buildings.

For several days, residents slept "under the stars," until the town's priest secured six tents. After the earthquake, some medicines were provided by local clinics. However, that stopped coming. Residents have suffered from diarrhoea, constipation and headaches, which Mlle Mayard attributes partly to the stress of their terrible situation.

Earthquake has not dampened older people's spirits

The clinic has only 30 beds for its 70 residents, and only 25 mattresses. One resident, Jean, who is 74 and has lived in the nursing home for 17 years, is a widower who had 16 children, all of whom died before reaching adulthood. He said his career was in mattress making. He joked that if we got him some cloth and stuffing, he could make enough mattresses for everyone.

Two older gentlemen were stretched out on mattresses in a porch area. A blind man, Arsène (right), pulled himself into a sitting position as we approached him. He couldn't remember exactly how old he was, but guessed he was born in the 1930s. He's a widower who's been living at St. Jean de Dieu for about a decade. His daughters live far away, he said, though one does visit from time to time.

Sharing stories and songs

Mlle Mayard herself has quite a story. She has taught for over forty years, in addition to running the nursing home. She still teaches now, despite having had a stroke in 2001.

A highlight of the day for HelpAge staff was a personal, made up song by 82 year old resident Deliverance (right). She told us she has one son who expects her to share her meals with him when he visits. Today it wasn't her meal she shared but her lovely singing voice. She improvised a joyful tune expressing thanks to God for HelpAge's visit, asking God to protect the team.

Read more about HelpAge's work in Haiti.

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Author profile

Sarah Marzouk
Country: UK
Job title: Digital Communications

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