Marie Antoinette: Empowerment in Haiti

Amy Porter | May 20, 2013

Marc Nancy and her mother, Marie Antoinette. Photo: Amy Porter/CWS

Marc Nancy and her mother, Marie Antoinette. Photo: Amy Porter/CWS

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, CWS supports the Haitian Christian Service (Service Chretien d’Haiti), which was founded by CWS in 1954. Working with CWS, SCH helps people in times of disaster and provides vocational training, agricultural assistance and economic opportunities to help people to climb out of poverty.

Two years before the January 12, 2010, earthquake, CWS also started working with churches in Port-au-Prince to become more inclusive to people with disabilities, inspired by a visit from a disabled pastor from Cuba. In Haiti, people with disabilities have been left out of the life of the church and the community, often looked on with suspicion, as though it was their sin that had caused their fate.

After the earthquake, Service Chretien d’Haiti reached out in a CWS-funded program to more than 1,200 disabled people with a program of economic assistance, help in setting up small businesses and rebuilding their homes. Many of them were newly disabled by the earthquake, called Gou-Dou-Gou-Dou in Creole for the sound that it made.

We visited a few of the people that had been helped, including Marie Antoinette PreExume and her daughter Marc Nancy. Marie Antoinette is in a wheelchair, disabled from a stroke, and lives with her daughter who takes care of her. Prior to her stroke, Marie Antoinette was a cook in a private home. Their small house was cracked and damaged by the earthquake, but repairable. However, afraid to go inside and have the roof collapse on them, they lived outside on the street for six months. Many people were living on the street out of fear of roof and building collapse.

CWS helped rebuild their home, installed a ramp and provided psycho-social training to help them overcome the trauma. We also hooked Marie Antoinette up with a physical therapist that helped her regain some of the use of her left arm. They were happy and relieved when we met them.

One of our colleagues asked Marie Antoinette if she was able to cook again. She shook her head and said Marc Nancy does the cooking now. I asked Marc Nancy who taught her how to cook. She smiled and, stroking her mother’s arm, said tenderly, “My mother.”

For me, this story really hit home. My mother had two strokes last year, walks with difficulty with a walker and requires help with most basic household functions. I am one of her caregivers. When I was listening to Marie Antoinette and Marc Nancy, I tried to imagine caring for my mother in the street. I could not imagine it. I felt bonded with them as they were telling their story. We weren’t very different, just in different circumstances.

I am grateful to CWS for helping Marie Antoinette and her daughter. I am grateful that CWS always looks to the most vulnerable, neglected and forgotten in a crisis.

Amy Porter, Associate Regional Director, New England, CWS