Olens Calix is 62 years old and has been blind since he was 14 years old. He used to sing in the streets with his guitar in hand at the age of 20, collecting just enough money to survive. The best place to sing and beg was in the center of the city, in front of the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince. It was on one of these days that he met Fr. Rick, who was near the Cathedral distributing bread and pasta to the beggars and poor families nearby. Fr. Rick heard him sing, and offered him a job singing for the sick at St. Luke Hospital. Olens comes in every day, accompanied by his wife and with his guitar, singing beautiful melodies they compose to give hope and strength to the sick.
In Haiti, nearly one million people, or 10% of the population, live with a disability. In many societies, living with a disability can be complicated, making disabled persons one of the most vulnerable populations. In many cases, the disabled cannot fully enjoy their rights and people may not be integrated into communities and social structures.
Marginalization, discrimination, and prejudice are all deeply felt by people with disabilities in Haiti, often leading to a life of misery; homeless and without family and friends, living in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Because of their disabilities, many are forced to engage in various, difficult, and perilous activities simply to obtain daily bread for themselves (and in some cases, their dependents). Most disabled Haitians do not know if there are laws or rights to protect them.
Looking around the streets of Port-au-Prince, it’s easy to see that many disabled people end up at the tap-tap or at bus stations, in wheelchairs or on crutches (or worse, yet, dragging on the floor), begging for pennies from passers-by. Some are not even so lucky, as some Haitian parents, especially in the countryside, consider their disabled children to be lifeless people and cast them out where they may not survive to be “lucky” enough to beg when they are young children or babies.
In general, it’s hard to find work in Haiti, even for an educated individual with several degrees. The employment system relies on a person having an influential family member, or a family friend (commonly called "godfather" or "godmother") to get a job. And if being disabled weren’t enough, persons with disabilities, even with the help of a friend, have so many difficulties in accessing common spaces (stairs, unpaved roads, and even getting in and out of vehicles can become daily obstacles) and dealing with the discrimination they face, that holding employment is almost impossible. For many, there is no bigger handicap!
At St. Luke our mission is to help the most vulnerable in society. We are proud to have a team of 30 disabled people of all different backgrounds. They work in our tilapia fish farm, raise chickens, grow coffee and moringa, and even sing! We offer them a chance to work according to their abilities, as well as their will. In truth, this kind of work is not always economical from a financial point of view, but from a humanitarian and an eternal point of view, we see it as priceless. Empowering vulnerable people is our true calling, and we enabled our staff to receive a monthly salary and the ability to manage their own lives and families.
It's not easy to live with a disability in Haiti, but with a little bit of collective support, we can make a difference. Please help us continue to make this difference. Thank you.