This will tell the story of the first year of the new Rehabilitation Dept. of the Episcopal University in Haiti, from the viewpoint of Donnel and Janet O'Flynn.
It is Holy Saturday, 11 April, 2020. A pause in the pace of life, on many levels.
So much has happened since our last posts, in early January, that I am embarrassed even to try to summarize! But let me try. First, our GRADUATION! On January 18, between the great storms of political demonstrations (up through December 2019) and coronavirus (March 2020), a door of opportunity opened and to our GREAT delight all ten of our first students graduated!
How too wonderful! And HRF members even came to join us for the occasion: Janis Handte, Catherine Manix, Judith Straub, and Donnel O’Flynn!
We recruited two more marvelous professors from Chile, one PT (Fernanda Valdebenito ) and one OT (Sofia Galleguillos, to stay to teach for a full year!
We welcomed for the first time (hopefully not the last) a wonderful PT professor from Brazil, Dr Fabiane Gioda, who stayed for three weeks to teach Basic Therapy Skills to the second-year students!
We welcomed two returning U.S. professors: Linda Robinson, PT, and Zara Harris, OT!
Then, everything changed. I am at home in Montana now, very much and very thoroughly at home, as are most of us during this time of sheltering-in-place. I came home on Feb. 28, intending to be here to celebrate Donnel’s birthday on March first. Within a week it was clear that airports and borders were closing due to the international coronavirus outbreak. Where to weather the siege ? I decided to stay home in Kalispell.
During the following week the same question became urgent for our professors from Chile: if they were to be home with their families, we would have to act fast. We bought them one-way tickets to Santiago and gave them 24 hours to pack up to go. Norman had planned to retire from FSRL after his one year contract ended, May 1, which would have allowed time for one of those wonderful parties of farewell that the students are so good at putting together! But as it was, this beloved member of FSRL had only a day to go to each staff member on campus to say good bye. Fernanda had only been on campus a week! And Sofia hadn’t yet arrived!
The borders of Haiti have now closed. What we hear from Norman is that he is providing respiratory therapy in seven-day long shifts, a normal part of the job for PT in Chile. (In the US this work is done by another professional, a respiratory therapist.) We send him love and respect!
Our students took in the waves of news with growing concern. First, our volunteer professors packed up and went home a little precipitously. The students asked, “Who will teach us?” and were reassured that our three Chilean faculty would be there all year.
Then, we sent the Chilean faculty home. “Who will teach us NOW? Should we be worried?” was the next question from the students. (You can already hear the hint of a smile in the way that was asked!) “No worries” I said, by WhatsApp. “Even our obstacles have obstacles. But we eat obstacles for breakfast, no?” “I hope we don’t get indigestion.” was the dour reply.
On March 18, the president of Haiti closed all schools and universities and asked Haitians to go home and stay home to limit virus transmission. Our clinic, Centre Universitaire Tèt Ansanm (CUTA) took in patients for one more day, while the new secretary of CUTA, Mlle Cedria, called all patients to cancel pending appointments. Then CUTA closed, in the realization that we did not have adequate PPE to protect the patients and staff.
As all our students are now at their homes, we are presenting classes remotely, not by laptop and internet, but by cell phone and WhatsApp! Few students have laptops or internet. Few even have electricity at home. But, at some risk, they can go out to a corner vendor to buy minutes and to recharge the phone. Right now three volunteer professors (Dr Cindy Clough, Mme Stephanie Goodrich, and M. Norman Villagra) are working with three local instructors (our new grads: Ramona Adrien, Stephyole Edmond, and Emerson Barthelemy) to present three courses (OT Foundations; Geriatrics; and Therapeutic Exercise). The students receive a passage to read, and a set of questions to answer. They answer by hand-writing the responses and sending a photo of the page. It is like putting a swimming pool through a drinking straw, for sure!
For the handful of students who have laptops and good internet, this seems not really enough. For those who are completely without access to electricity, this isn’t working and they will need to re-address these courses when FSRL opens again. But for the majority of our students, this method is viable and at least keeps them in the mode of developing a therapist’s knowledge base and a therapist’s mind-set.
The first-years are also engaged in WhatsApp learning. They were in a traditional schedule, with 8 concurrent classes that were intended to last a full semester, but each prof is now taking a turn to finish out his or her course. Jephté Noel has taught First Aid and Rescue Techniques, and Abimael Lindor has been teaching Anthropology. Jorel Simplice will soon be teaching Professional French to the second-years.
We have other resources too. Two professors from Quebec, René Bélanger and Frédérik Marquis, are standing by to teach the next courses in sequence. The PT capstone students of Dr Julie Booth, at Quinnipac University, will be contacting the FSRL students who are more able to find internet, to offer English conversation sessions. Our colleagues from U. de Sherbrooke, led by Mme Carmen Moliner, remain in contact with our students and have become a source of good science-based information on the coronavirus, with the goal that our students be able to teach the facts for prevention in their areas. (Rumors and superstitions are going wild in Haiti, as they did here before good information became available.)
Finally, and with genuine sorrow, please join us to mourn the loss of one our founding members, Dr Yves Roséus. Yves was a Haitian-American Occupational Therapist who died in the course of duty, in his work at a New York city hospital. His energy and devotion to the emerging professions of OT and PT in Haiti were a source of inspiration for us. He was a good good man: a leader in his church, his work place, his professional organizations of NYSOTA and National Black OT Caucus, and in his service to OT through ACOTE accreditation visits. He was devoted to his family. He was proud of our Haitian students and professors and wanted with all his heart to see FSRL succeed. We will do our best, Yves. Rest in a well-earned peace.