Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Importance of Education in Haiti

We'd like to share a heart-wrenching story of a man we met in Gramothe back in March. His story is one of many that demonstrate the urgency of bringing education to the people of Haiti. (Author's note: some photos may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.)

Before we begin, we'd like to share some basic facts about education in Haiti*.
  • Fifty percent of primary school age children are not enrolled in school.
  • One third of girls over six never go to school.
  • Approximately 30% of children attending primary school will not make it to third grade; 60% will abandon school before sixth grade.
  • Only 15% of teachers at the primary level have basic teacher qualifications (including university degrees), and nearly 25% have never even attended secondary school.
  • The most startling statistic: 37.9% of the population is unable to read or write as compared to only 12% illiteracy in the rest of Latin America


We'd like to introduce you to Sainristil, father of 15 children, a farmer and long-time resident of Gramothe. We met him bright and early on the first day we worked at MTM's clinic in March. He was delirious with pain and showed us the cause: his hand was grossly swollen and black with injuries that none of us could identify. The tips of the fingers on his left hand were shaved down to pointy nubs, showing exposed dried tissue.

Sainristil (right) showing his injuries to Shawn, TRTP doctor (left) prior to treatment

After examination by the doctors, it was determined that he had dry gangrene on all of his fingers. The doctors treated him with strong antibiotics and referred him to a surgical center because his injuries were beyond the capabilities of MTM's clinic. But what could have caused such an injury?

Through an interpreter, we heard this sad, unfortunate story unravel.

On January 12th, Sainristil was walking his youngest daughter, Kenia, home from school. While walking along the river bed, the earthquake triggered a rockslide, striking this beautiful 6 year old. Two medical volunteers at MTM's clinic who witnessed the landslide, labored to breathe life into the little girl while transporting her via ATV to the closest hospital. Tragically, Kenia's injuries brought her short life to an end.

Six year old Kenia at school (photo courtesy of MTM)

In the midst of his substantial grief and loss, Sainristil stood strong and chose to help at rice distribution points set up to give much needed food to fellow Haitians. Sainristil explained to us that he was in serious pain following his work handling 100 lb sacks of rice. His left hand caused him such pain that a well-meaning friend suggested that he put his hand in boiling water for relief. Sadly, he took his friend's advice.

According to Sainristil, the pain subsided temporarily, but as you can imagine, the boiling water damaged his hand even further. His hand swelled up like a balloon and, being a farmer, he questioned how he would be able to farm with such a hand. So he did what he thought would be best—he began to carve away the swollen tissue from his fingers. As the gangrene developed, the real pain set in which is what brought him to the clinic seeking help.

Injury prior to treatment

Following the advice of the clinic doctors, Sainristil was able to get the treatment he needed from a local surgical center with help from MTM. Unfortunately, by the time we saw him again on Friday morning, four of his fingers had been amputated. He expressed his gratitude for the surgery and shared that the pain was much more manageable.

Following the amputation of 4 fingers

During The Red Thread Promise's most recent trip to Haiti in May, Kathy and the team were fortunate enough to see Sainristil again. Eight weeks had past since our last visit. Unfortunately, he had returned to the surgical center to have the remaining part of his hand removed. Angie, one of our team members, was able to measure him for a prosthesis that we hope to provide for him.

Following the amputation of entire hand

This true story weighs on our hearts and minds and demonstrates the value of education, which could have prevented this tragedy.
  • A basic anatomy class would have provided Sainristil sufficient knowledge about the human body that he would have known putting his hand in boiling water would cause more long-term problems than possible pain relief.
  • Literacy and access to a library or the internet would have allowed him to research his ailment before making life-altering decisions.
  • Understanding the importance of a medical consultation for diagnosis, treatment options and pain management in lieu of superstitious cures would have drastically changed the rest of his life.
Instead, in Gramothe, there is a well-meaning father who is now an amputee for life, whose capacity to be a provider for his remaining 14 children has been greatly diminished.

It is time for change.

* Unicef website, 2009; Haiti Interim Cooperation Framework Report, 2004; Unicef Humanitarian Action Report 2008; World Bank 2007 Project Appraisal Document for Education for All Program; Human Development Report 2009; UNDP Haiti Rapport National Sur Le Development Humain 2002

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