Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Orleans - Day 2, Part 2

We’d like to paint a picture of St. Vincent’s for you, based on our conversations with Fr. Sadoni, Priest in Charge of Ephiphanie Church and St. Vincent’s Director for the past 3 years.


Exterior of St. Vincent's

St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children School and Medical Facility was, and still is, a unique place in the heart of Port-au-Prince. It was the first school in Haiti to care for disabled children and, over the past 65 years, has never lost its focus. Located just one block away from the Presidential palace, St. Vincent’s serves some of the most disadvantaged children in the city—blind, deaf and mute children as well as those with other physical disabilities—with ages ranging from 5 to 18. It is the only facility in Haiti to work with the blind.

The school began with just 70 children and has grown to serve 350, 150 of which are living in the dormitories. The center provides education and continuous health care to these exceptional young people, teaching them the skills necessary to take care of themselves beyond their time at St. Vincent’s and prepares them to become productive members of Haitian society.

Another equally important goal of the center is to change Haitian’s perception of people with disabilities. They envision a future where these exceptional children receive high quality care and access to mainstream opportunities in both school and work no matter where they are in Haiti.

Three different groups of children arrive at St. Vincent’s door on a daily basis:
  • Day students come to school every day but return home in the evening.
  • Boarding students stay year round but go home during vacation.
  • Displaced and orphaned students live at the center year round. It is their home.
The school provides both elementary and secondary education. The basics of reading, writing, math, history and geography are taught. English is taught during the 3rd cycle. The classroom structure for the school is as follows:
  • Kindergarten: 5 year olds
  • 1st cycle: 6-9 year olds
  • 2nd cycle: 9-12 year olds
  • 3rd cycle: 12-15 year olds
One of the many classrooms

St. Vincent’s respects the different learning styles and capabilities of its varied student population. The center seeks out the highest level of teachers for the classrooms. They are also committed to developing partnerships with other organizations that work with disabled people in order to insure that the services delivered on site are of the highest caliber.

Some of the deaf students

The school deals with its deaf children differently than all other schools in Port-au-Prince. While everyone else teaches lip reading, St. Vincent’s teaches its students sign language. Unlike Braille, which is universal, sign language is not. It is generally taught in the spoken language of each country. Since the nuns who started St. Vincent’s were from Massachusetts, both American and French sign is taught.

Blind students learn to read and write in Braille and also work with music. The school had a music room where the students have lessons and study. Many excel in this field and aid in teaching the younger students.

St. Vincent’s housed multiple single-room clinics including orthopedic, auditory, optical, neurological and general where children could be seen for their various maladies as well as a surgical room, pharmacy and brace shop where orthopedic braces and prosthesis are made. Operated by local physicians and volunteers, these services were made available to both the students of the center as well as local residents.

The brace shop was another unique aspect of the center. Not only was it the first facility to fit and make prostheses and braces in Haiti, but it also has the distinction of being the only facility in Haiti that is entirely staffed by deaf employees. Full-time workers make and repair prosthetics, orthopedic bracing, crutches, and other apparatus needed to correct many deformities for residents and local people.

St. Vincent’s was (and still is) truly a gem, deep in the heart of Haiti.

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