It is all too often in Haiti that the line that separates life and death becomes blurred. Renewal and departure can be so intertwined, that in a day witnessing both a funeral and a birth becomes almost commonplace.
When the Father Wasson Center collapsed in Petionville last year, we all felt hurtled over this line. Could we come back, could we find the balance that seemed for the moment to have so irrevocably shifted? As the Kay Eliane Rehabilitation Center opens this month in Petionville, we find inspiration in the life, and death of the girl who taught us all about living. Eliane came to Nos Petites Frères et Soeurs in 1992 and I first met her in August of 1993. I had been in Haiti for just two months, and at the time Eliane had just returned from Texas where she had brain surgery. Eliane had hydrocephalus (a flooding of fluid in the brain) and at the time, there was no chance of doing corrective surgery in Haiti. I remember thinking she looked so strange, this small child with a big head, half shaved since the surgery and a blue ribbon! I was terrified to hold her as she was so frail and sick and I felt like I was a big elephant holding a china doll. In January of 1994 I travelled with her to Mexico for rehabilitation therapy. The time in Mexico was the most traumatic week I had ever lived. Eliane was sick every day. She vomited uncontrollably and I was terrified that she would die.
Elaine did not have it easy in life. But her strength and perseverance in the face of so much suffering made her my greatest inspiration and my greatest teacher. When her shunt became infected in 1996, we were told that a new one couldn’t be used, that there was too much infection. I asked how long she would live without a shunt and I was told six months, and it was indeed six months later that Eliane died peacefully in her bed. She was six years old. Her death was my first experience of losing a loved one, and I cried for fourteen months before I could finally move on.
Now another fourteen months have passed, from the earthquake to today, and we opened Kay Eliane. Kay Eliane will serve an initial 45 children from the Petionville area with physical therapy classes and pre-school stimulation. Occupational and pool therapy programs will be added next year. The center, open five days a week, has a staff of two therapists, one teacher, one cook, one manager, two cleaners and one driver, as well as an youth who grew up at our home, Kay Christine in Kenscoff.
Our rehab programs were born out of a desire to help severely handicapped children and their parents. We want these children to feel as special as Eliane was, to be surrounded by love as Eliane was. Loving Eliane taught me so much of what these parents are feeling-fear, frustration, pain, desperation, anger. I felt all of these feelings with Eliane and I had the support of a huge organization. Most of these parents have no one.
Kay Eliane is a large spacious house and its in a beautiful setting for all the children that will come here each day. On the day we opened, I felt so happy inside and I felt very strongly the presence of our precious Eliane. I have no doubt that she will watch over us and keep us strong as we continue our mission for these special children and their parents.