My Mission to Help Disabled Children In Haiti

By Audrey Ortiz

2015-11-10-1447164762-9025601-Haitichildren3.jpgChildren at the Autumn Marshall's Miriam Center Clinic in Haiti

The Plumfund Story: Helping the "Cocobai"
"Cocobai" is the creole word used in Haiti to label those with disabilities. It means "worthless." When a child is born with disabilities, the family believes they've been cursed by evil spirits, which is why most orphanages there are filled with special-needs children abandoned by families who fear being ostracized. Unfortunately, rehabilitation services and other outlets for managing special needs children are a rare medical luxury in Haiti. With disabilities consuming 10 percent of the population, rehabilitation services are spread incredibly thin.

As an occupational therapy student at Indiana State University, I've chosen a career that helps people like the "Cocobai" achieve as much independence as possible and participate in what is meaningful to them. That's why, when my OT professor, Margaret "Meg" Ladyman, shared her experience working at a therapy clinic in Haiti this summer, I knew I would make my own trip some time soon. After hearing about Meg's experiences providing therapy services and adaptive equipment to the children at Autumn Marshall's Miriam Center Clinic, and watching a video of a little girl walking independently for the first time in a homemade walker, I felt called to use my new skills as an OT student to help children who desperately need it.

People don't choose to have a disability -- it can happen to anyone. Occupational therapists study patient disabilities and ask specifically, "How are their limitations preventing them from participating in the activities they want and need to do in their daily life?" We guide them through rehabilitation and provide innovative adaptations to achieve the functional independence they need to live meaningful lives. That is what I want to bring to children in Haiti. When we reveal their capabilities, perhaps we can reduce the stigmatization they experience.

A group of six students from the Indiana State University Occupational Therapy program, along with my professor Meg Ladyman, Fountains of Hope founder Bill Farrar, and fellow physical therapist Rosie Flammang will make the next trip to Haiti in March of 2016. We are working on funding this mission ourselves through the non-profit Fountains of Hope, an organization that brings water purification systems to underdeveloped countries. However, the costs to each student is $2,000, which brought me and fellow classmate Chelsea Dause to create Plumfund pages to seek support from others.

2015-11-10-1447165070-1082181-Haitichildren2.jpgOrphaned Children, Playing at the Clinic

Plumfund giving in action: Students on a Mission
So far, the Plumfund has been a huge success in helping make the trip happen and raise awareness among my family and friends. Currently, we are learning to fabricate walking devices out of PVC pipes and using cardboard carpentry techniques to create positioning devices and adaptive equipment. While in Haiti, we'll be working with the orphans on increasing range of motion and strength, sensory integration, teaching children to use communication devices, creating adaptive equipment, performing developmental assessments, and most importantly educating the community. The people of Haiti beg for those with knowledge to teach them to treat and provide intervention services for those with disabilities. Along with education and awareness, the greatest gift we can give them is demonstrating the ability these children have to participate in life and share their love with others.

I've reached an amazing 50 percent of my goal in just a few short weeks while I continue to work hard on preparing for the trip, keeping up with my schoolwork, working part-time, volunteering in the community, and participating in honors society. If I'm blessed enough to receive a surplus of donations, I will be making sure that my entire team is fully funded and use the rest for purchasing therapeutic materials to take with us.

Other Indiana State University students going to Haiti include Chelsea Dause, Danielle Hobbs, Amanda Criste, Pamela Lemperis, and Maria Antonio. We look forward to returning with countless success stories and hope to continue to visit Haiti in the future to carry on our mission.

2015-11-10-1447163754-7107552-professionalpicture.jpgAudrey Ortiz

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Plumfund, in conjunction with Giving Tuesday. In the series, we'll feature inspirational stories of giving and receiving from users and friends of Plumfund, the free crowdfunding site. You'll find one post every weekday in November leading up to Giving Tuesday. To learn more about this campaign or start your own, visit Plumfund.com.