On a dusty football pitch near Cite Soleil, the largest slum area in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, two teams of young footballers were training for a match. The final game was taking place in the National Stadium as part of a low-key commemoration of the earthquake which struck on January 12th last year and caused devastation across Haiti. The youngsters taking part were a symbol of hope and resilience for a nation where so much is broken, because all the players had lost legs in the quake.
Twenty-three year old Mackendy Francois was working in a shirt factory when the earthquake hit. Trapped under fallen rubble, his friends freed him by using a hacksaw to sever his left leg below the knee. Thousands of Haitians lost limbs in the disaster. Emergency medical teams and hospitals dealt with at least 3-4000 amputees in the days and weeks following the quake, with some unofficial estimates putting the number at closer to 10,000.
Attitudes to disability had begun to improve in Haiti following the setting up of a Secretariat for the Integration of Disabled People in 2006. However, the disaster destroyed most of the facilities dedicated to services for the disabled community, estimated at around 800,000 people before the earthquake. Experts working with disabled charities in the country hope the needs of quake survivors will open the door to better services and support for all the country’s disabled in the future.
Amputees like the young soccer players are certainly helping to change attitudes as locals become more used to seeing people described as the “new normal.” Mackendy Francois affirmed “life didn’t end when I lost a leg”. By continuing to embrace life, he and his fellow amputees are incredible examples of courage and positive thinking, something Haitians will need over the coming years. As the most recent report by Christian Aid points out, with little clarity over land ownership and limited private funds and available land to rebuild, it is currently proving impossible to re-house the vast majority of the 1.3 million people who still remain homeless after the earthquake. Referring to the situation in which Haiti finds itself, Francois says “everything cannot get fixed ... but life goes on.”
The young soccer player said he is extremely proud to represent his team, who were playing a side called Zaryen. This opposing team is named after the Creole term for a tarantula, because the spider is known for carrying on even after it loses a leg. The young Haitian players certainly did amazingly well in their emulation of the spider, controlling the ball skilfully with their good legs and avoiding ‘illegal’ contact with their crutches during a game which proved to be a very special football match.
Today is the anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. Find out how you can help children in Haiti one year on