Port-au-Prince - It’s 7 o’clock in the morning, but the sun is already glaring on Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Catherine gets off a rickety bus and hitches Philippe, her 6 y.o. son on her back. It’s another 3 miles to school and Catherine quickly gets tired. People they meet avert their eyes, as if they can’t see the frail young woman and her little son. A teenage boy throws a small stone at the pair and runs away; someone crosses the street, as if meeting mother and son would cause them bad luck. Philippe is used this.
His mother has been taking him to school like this ever since the boy lost his leg in the earthquake of 2010. Even if he had a wheel chair, it would be impossible to push it over the uneven road. It’s uncomfortable on his mother’s back, but Philippe doesn’t complain. When he gets to school, there will be other kids like him and kind teachers, who will be happy to see him, play, teach, and talk to him as if he’s just another kid in Port-au-Prince. And that’s worth a long uncomfortable ride any day.
In Haiti, having a disabled child is still considered a curse on a family. Kids like Philippe have no future, no place in society. Some children never leave home, hidden away, for fear of the whole family being ostracized because of the child’s disability.
Faithful to our Lord’s calling to help the sick and the suffering, the Russian Orthodox Mission in Haiti took up the case of the disabled in the country and in their community. For 20 years, the mission has been operating a school called Foyer d’Amour – Home of Love - for physically and mentally handicapped children. Over 150 children attend the school and over 60 adults graduate every year from the adult training center, affiliated with Foyer d’Amour. Thanks to their efforts, there is now a law on the integration of Disabled Persons, so children like Philippe don’t have to suffer more than they already do.
All this is done by our brothers and sisters in Christ, under the expert leadership of Fr Gregoire Legoute. Matushka Rose, his wife, devotes all her time to the school, managing , teaching and loving the children. Many of them convert to Orthodoxy, swelling the number of the Orthodox in Haiti.