Students travel to Haiti, give new hope to people with disabilities

A photo of a young boy after receiving a wheelchair.

HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WANE) Over a period of five days 12 Huntington University students were able to impact the lives of more than 90 people with disabilities in the small country of Haiti.

As Occupational Therapist students at Huntington University, fitting a wheelchair is just one thing Caroline Hesterman, Farah Elifils and Corey Cundall have learned. It would be those very skills that helped dozens of people more than 1,700 miles away in Haiti. The Huntington University Occupational Therapy Doctorate program teamed up with the organization called Joni & Friends International Disabilities Center for the Wheels for the World program.

First, the students held a drive accepting old wheelchairs, canes and walkers. Then the old equipment was shipped to the Pendleton Correctional Facility where inmates refurbished them. Then they were shipped to Haiti. The students, along with faculty, arrived in Haiti Jan. 9 for their eight-day trip.

The students were paired up with licensed Occupational and Physical Therapists and evaluated and assessed more than 90 patients with severe disabilities that limited their mobility. Many of their patients were badly injured during the 2010 earthquake or had disabilities like cerebral palsy.

“You’ll see mothers carrying in their 14 and 15 year old son and that’s the way they’ve managed for years, so to see their child leaving in a seating system that serves their needs is wonderful,” Assistant Professor Dr. Nate Short said. “They can interact with their environment, they can feed and swallow much better and their in a better state of mind all around.”

The students said the experience gave them a real chance to understand the culture and bond with the people they were sent there to help. Hesterman said she’ll never forget the six-year-old boy who shared a birthday with her.

“He was born a normal, healthy boy but unfortunately he had a traumatic brain injury during the earthquake, so we got to fit him with a wheelchair and just give him the gift of mobility,” Hesterman said. “It was something he had not received over the past six years.”

For Farah Elifils it was a homecoming. Elifils is from Haiti and it had been 10 years since she had last been there. She said it sounded pretty good to help other people, but it did so much more than that.

“I was so surprised to realize how much I end up receiving much more than I could give them,” Elifils said.

Perspective. That’s what Corey Cundall said he walked away with.

“It doesn’t change you completely,” Cundall said. “It doesn’t change the kind of person you are, but it changes the way you look at things. I think that’s really important. I think a lot of people need that.”

They gave hope to more than 90 people in the five days they traveled from church to church setting up clinics, and in return they got smiles, hugs and endless gratitude that they’ll never forget.

“I know a lot of us have made it our personal goals to be thankful for what we do have here,” Cundall said.

To learn more about the Joni & Friends International Center’s programs click here.

Comments are closed.