Back in April 2010, PCI featured the story of one of “Haiti’s Heroes” – Bleck Eliassaint – a 23 year-old musician who lost his left leg below the knee in the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010. That disaster leveled much of the capital, killing nearly a quarter million people and leaving more than three million Haitians homeless.
Bleck Eliassaint was one of the lucky ones: he survived.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it out of his apartment building unscathed. Eliassaint, like up to 100,000 other Haitian “earthquake amputees,” lost a limb after being pinned under wreckage of a collapsed home. Despite the unimaginable physical and emotional challenges he’s faced since, Eliassaint chose to enlist in PCI’s cash-for-work program in order to support reconstruction efforts in his local community.
Cash-for-work is a short-term program designed to support critical public works projects, while also giving local people the opportunity to earn much-needed income. Funded by the U.S. government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, PCI’s cash-for-work activities in Haiti include removing rubble, clearing drainage, constructing latrines and building other communal infrastructure. Most cash-for-work laborers who perform this physically demanding work are fully ambulatory, using shovels, wheelbarrows and other construction equipment to get the job done. Eliassaint not only performed the same heavy manual labor as the other workers, he accomplished it on crutches – while standing on only one leg.
In addition to Eliassaint, PCI has employed more than 2,500 other Port-au-Prince residents in cash-for-work programs since February 2010. Collectively, these Haitian earthquake survivors have earned an estimated $285,000, pumping new money back into local communities for the purchase of food, medicine, tuition fees for newly re-opened schools and to re-start small businesses in and around the capital.
Bleck is now the leader of a PCI pilot project to help other earthquake amputees. This unique effort brings together amputees of all ages and backgrounds in a monthly community support group in Port-au-Prince. PCI/Haiti is stressing the importance of psychosocial healing for survivors, and on changing traditional stereotypes associated with the disabled in Haiti. Together, PCI is working to make a difference for Haiti’s earthquake amputees, whose bravery – exemplified by Bleck Eliassaint – is an inspiration for all of us.
Nearly one year after the earthquake, life is very different for Eliassaint. He lost a leg, but insists he is not a victim. Eliassaint has dedicated himself to sharing his story with others in the hope that they, like him, can overcome long odds and hardship. His message? Life is not over.