The University of Notre Dame Haiti Program took an important “next step” in the expansion of its clinical services and morbidity management initiatives with the opening of a vocational training center in Leogane, Haiti in early September. An initiative to further lymphatic filariasis (LF) patient empowerment, as a part of the "Mental Health Initiative," the center was dedicated in a ceremony attended by some 50 individuals on September 10, 2014.
The center, which is located just a block north of the existing LF clinic at Hospital Saint Croix, provides a new and important service to those individuals whose lives have been forever changed by LF. The center will offer courses in vocations such as sewing, tailoring, floral skills, and catering, in order to provide life skills and improve self-esteem among those plagued with the dreaded disease which results in incurable swelling of the lower extremities. The center will be managed by a recent addition to the Notre Dame Haiti Program’s Leogane-area team, Martha Desir, a nurse with a background in psychosocial work.
After a local pastor, chosen by the patients, invited the presence of God into the building and blessed the activity, Earl Carter, managing director for the Haiti Program, extended the greetings of program founder Rev. Thomas Streit, C.S.C. Although Father Streit was unable to be in Haiti for the dedication, Carter articulated what is the realization of yet another of Father Streit’s visions for the program that has become his life’s calling – specifically, to provide a “full package” to LF patients.
"The vocational training center is a key part of the spiritual, intellectual and socio-economic life areas that we aspire to enhance among those afflicted with LF. It's a gift that, thanks to the grace of God and the generosity of the Notre Dame family, we are able to offer those whose lives have been forever changed by LF, mostly notably, the women of Leogane that are present here today. Within this facility, we aspire to provide you training that will allow you to start a small business that will benefit you, your families, and your community,” Carter stated.
Jean Marc Brissau, country director of the Notre Dame Haiti Program, emphasized the shortage of technicians in various fields in Leogane and noted that with the opening of the training center, there is no further reason for excuses. “There will no longer be a reason for anyone to say I do not have a job, or I have no technical training, because I am a victim of LF,” Brissau said. He further stated that his dream for LF patients is to see that one day, they can become independent and live completely off what they have learned as a result of skills acquired at the vocational training center.
The LF patients similarly welcomed the opening of the center. Mrs. Leriche, an LF patient who also works as a marketing agent in the salt program, spoke as a representative of the patients. After thanking the program, she requested that her fellow patients “take their training very seriously in order to become independent, and on a micro-economic level, become important contributors to their country in the future.”
The Notre Dame Haiti Program, in partnership with other organizations, is dedicated to the elimination LF in Haiti by 2020. In addition to the new vocational training center, other key Haiti Program elements include Mass Drug Administration; a growing salt program that provides Bon Sel Dayiti+, clean, co-fortified salt (with additives that combat iodine deficiency disorder, as well as LF); and a multi-faceted research and monitoring & evaluation program directed by Father Streit. For more information, visit the haiti.nd.edu and bonseldayiti.com.