Aug 15, 2019 | By: Writen by Mim Paquin Photography by Matilde Simas for Capture Humanity
In early February 2019, Long Island-based prosthetist and humanitarian Robert Schulman made his fifth humanitarian aid trip to Haiti to engineer and build free prostheses and provide pediatric prosthetic care to children who suffer limb loss. In previous years he travelled alone. For this trip, a handpicked team of eight volunteers, including resident prosthetists and amputee mentors, joined him.
The team worked from their base at the prosthetic clinic on the Mission of Hope campus grounds in Titanyen, Haiti, about 13 miles [21.5 km] northwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince. They traveled from all over the country with one goal in mind: to provide relief, free prostheses and guidance for the children in Haiti who suffered limb loss, and to provide support and prosthetic care information for families and communities.
Capital of Port-au-Prince on February 2, 2019.
A sobering reality
Before the trip, Robert prepared his volunteer team for the harsh realities of life in Haiti, including malaria-carrying mosquitos, undrinkable water, and a climate that is simultaneously windy, hot, and humid.
Haiti’s economy is unstable. For the people who live there, it’s an everyday struggle to find work, food, and stability in the rubble and rough country terrain. They live in a perpetual aftermath after a series of natural disasters.
In January 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks devastated the country . Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and an estimated 300,000 people died. Port-au-Prince was nearly destroyed, and cities that were closest to the epicenter of the earthquake were nearly completely leveled. One third of the population of nine million Haitians was immediately affected, with one million becoming homeless.
This wasn’t the first disaster to strike the country. Haiti was already recovering from two tropical storms and two hurricanes from August and September 2008. Neither the infrastructure nor the economy was prepared for another hit — and it almost broke the spirit of the Haitian people.
Titanyen, Haiti, 13 miles [21.5 km] northwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince on February 4, 2019
But Haiti began to rebuild.
A decade later, some of the Haitian population remains displaced and living in inadequate housing in communities in various states of repair and recovery. The children have born the brunt of it, falling victim to slave culture, human trafficking, domestic violence, and overall negligence and abuse.
In light of these ongoing, Robert Schulman asked a key question: what can I do to make things better for the children?
Prostheses donated by Limb Kind Foundation at the Mission of Hope Prothetic Lab on February 4, 2019.
Limb Kind Foundation travels to Haiti
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are only 7,800 registered prosthetists in the U.S. Being one of few in his field, Robert decided to use his expertise to provide prosthetic care for those suffering limb loss in Haiti. He created Limb Kind Foundation to facilitate this mission and joined forces with both amputee mentors and fellow prosthetists to collectively use their talents and skills to provide help and hope to amputees across the globe, starting with Haiti.
“In many areas around the world, they live a very basic and simple life, where they have close to nothing,” Robert said in his recent TEDx talk . “I really learned this when I went to Haiti in 2013 to make prostheses for the children who lost limbs from the earthquake in 2010. This trip changed my life in many ways.”
Like all of Limb Kind’s trips, the Haiti mission was made possible through massive fundraising efforts, with a call to the amputee community across the country for donations of old prosthesis and any parts they could spare. Schulman spearheaded the details of his solo trips, and the team trip was no different. He coordinated the logistics of getting both the volunteers — some of who are amputees themselves — and the supplies and donations to the Mission of Hope campus in Haiti. His eight-person team came in handy this time.
After landing in the hustling and bustling Port-au-Prince airport, the team had a moment to bond during the truck ride to the Mission of Hope. And they did — immediately. On the back of an open truck, surrounded by their luggage and 2,000 lbs. of donated and purchased prosthetic supplies, Robert expressed his excitement and gratitude for what was to come.
“I’ve been doing this for a handful of years, and to bring all you guys as a team… I’m very excited!” Robert began. “I’m so excited to have you enjoy the things that I’ve gotten out of doing this. You’ll make a difference for these kids. Let’s have a fantastic week, everybody!”
The team stretched their hands into the center of the truck. “One, two, three. Be Kind, Limb Kind!” That moment captured the spirit of Limb Kind volunteers — a spirit that remained through the entirety of the mission.
Even amid the hot and humid Haiti weather, the team — nicknamed ‘The Grateful Eight’ — was energized. They walked, hopped, and wheeled around the campus with a contagious energy, wearing black with white t-shirt uniforms bearing the words ‘Limb Kind Foundation.’ They were representing an idea that stems back to Robert Schulman’s personal mission statement and foundation motto: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind. Limb Kind.”
Manhattan -based prosthetist intern, Reid Beauchemin, fitting a child with lateral below-the-knee amputation at the Mission of Hope Prosthetic Lab in Haiti on February 4, 2019.
Fitting Day has arrived
On the first appointment day, 19 children ranging from 2 to 21 years old came into the clinic to be measured and molded for prostheses. Some of the children represented the 8,000 people who suffer from limb loss in Haiti as a direct result of the 2010 earthquake, while others were part of a population that suffers due to a lack of reliable medical support. None of them have the immediate and ongoing care they need to develop independence through the use of prosthetics.
Some of the kids had met Robert before. He returns to Mission of Hope each year to provide these families and their children the sense of stability and security they desperately need.
Mecina, a community volunteer, coordinated travel logistics for the kids and their families. They first drove to St. Vincent’s hospital before boarding a van to the clinic. Some of the children took multiple modes of transportation, including local tap-taps (bus taxis), motorcycles, and motorbikes. The community rallied around the children to make sure they made it to the clinic for measuring and molding day.
Long Island-based prosthetist, Robert Schulman and intern prosthetist, Reid Beauchemin, engineer a limb at the Mission of Hope Prosthetic Lab in Titanyen, Haiti, on February 8, 2019.
Engineering and Building 20 prostheses in three days
The amputee mentors kept the children busy as they waited for their turn to meet with Robert and the amputee team. They played basketball and volleyball; walked on their hands and performed other stunts; read books; had conversations about sports, school, and fashion; and even took selfies together. It was clear that the mentors and children enjoyed each other’s company. They bonded.
The team’s sense of purpose began take shape on that first day, while the children were measured and molded for prostheses.
Amputee mentor, Robert Rodriguez, and prostheses recipients play basketball at the Mission of Hope Prosthetic Lab in Titanyen, Haiti on February 8, 2019.
It wasn’t lost on the team that if these children were living in the U.S., they would have everything available to them: the prostheses and the physical therapy necessary to develop the confidence and muscles needed to use them. The children would also be automatically plugged into a community of fellow amputees from around the country. They’d be given a sense of autonomy that comes with growing up in vast community filled with experts and mentors ready to educate, train, and offer one-on-one big brother–big sister support.
Limb Kind’s Grateful Eight collectively hoped that each of the children who made it to the appointment that day would safely return on Friday to be fitted and receive their prostheses, as well as a crash-course physical therapy coaching session. Everyone was excited to see the kids walk on their new limbs with confidence.
But before that could happen, Robert and his resident prosthetists, Roberto Herrera and Reid Beauchamp, had big job to do: engineer and build 20 prostheses in three days using the clinic’s existing technology and the supplies they brought on the flight.
Nicole Lee Grehn, Registered Nurse and Limb Kind Foundation Motivational Amputee Mentor, preforms wellness checks in Lafiteau Village, Haiti, on Feb. 6, 2019.
Community wellness check-ups
While the prosthetists were busy creating limbs, the rest of the team joined Mission of Hope missionaries on health and wellness check-ups in the local community. The three amputee mentors — Nicole Lee Grehn, a bilateral above-the-knee amputee and registered nurse from Wisconsin; Reggie Showers, a bilateral below-the-knee amputee, motivational speaker, humanitarian, and community leader from Pennsylvania; and Robert A. Rodriguez, a lateral below-the-knee amputee, motivational and public speaker, professional prosthetic educator, and founder of Limb Possible from New York — visited the neighboring communities of Lafayette and Cabaret.
Since Nicole is a registered nurse, Mission of Hope asked her to be the lead nurse on the wellness checks. When village residents saw Nicole walking on her prostheses with a stethoscope around her neck, heading towards their homes, they were in awe. A look of curiosity and admiration overtook the patients in her care. They asked her questions about herself and she responded in a bright, affable manner, and then continued focusing on their needs or concerns. The patients wanted to know Nicole — to engage with her in conversation.
The other mentors looked on with pride and knew they were a part of a very special type of community outreach. It was outreach that they hadn’t planned on, but enjoyed everyone moment of through smiling, shaking hands, embracing, dancing, engaging in meaningful conversation, and having plenty of laughs due to the language barrier. With the help of Gary, a local Haitian and a full-time Mission of Hope volunteer translator, the mentors were able to create sincere connections with every family at every home they visited. Each volunteer made an effort to learn as much Haitian Creole they could during their visit. And whenever they made the effort to communicate in Creole, Spanish, or French, the locals made an extra effort to respond in their best English.
Venturing out into the community allowed the mentors to see firsthand the conditions Robert had prepared them for. And while there were poverty and harsh living conditions, most notable was the way the Haitian people spoke positively of their country and their hope for its future. The mentors’ sense of purpose crystalized after the wellness check visits, and their enthusiasm to give even more of themselves to the children scheduled to visit was reenergized.
American prosthetist, Robert Schulman, provides prosthetic pediatric care to a child at the Mission of Hope Prosthetic Lab in Titanyen, Haiti, on February 8,2019.
Reflecting on an incredible journey
As the end of the day approached, the team rallied to pack everything up and prepare to fly back to the U.S. In light of the civil unrest and violent protests, the team received escorts to the airport early the next morning. They encountered some makeshift blockades and protestors along the way — the same kind of barriers the children experienced on their way to the clinic the day before. Little did the team know that their flight would be one of the last to depart Haiti; the U.S. State Department banned flights to Haiti over safety concerns the following day.
As the exhausted team sat around an airport restaurant table waiting for their flights home, Robert asked, “How do you guys feel?”
“I feel incredible,” Robert replied, without missing a beat. The rest of the team chimed in: Amazing. Exhausted. Focused. I wish there was more we could do. We needed more time. Overwhelmed. Grateful. Forever changed.
Not all of the children who initially came on Monday made it to fitting day on Friday. Those children were able to return to the clinic over the following days and weeks to work with the clinic’s full-time manager, Nono, to get their prostheses fitted and receive coaching on how to use them.
The success of the February 2019 team trip encouraged Robert to add a new mission statement to Limb Kind Foundation: “Improving the lives of children with limb loss, both domestic and international, by strengthening the amputee community and providing pediatric prosthetic care to all.”
The Limb Kind Foundation will return to Haiti in 2020 and is looking forward to inaugural visits to three more countries: the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Mim Paquin, Reid Beauchemin, Robert Schulman, Robert Rodriguez, Reggie Showers, Roberto Herrera, Nicole Lee Grehn, and Matilde Simas from the Limb Kind and Capture Humanity organizations at the International Toussaint Louverture international airport in Tabarre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on February 9, 2019.
If you would like to help Limb Kind Foundation provide children the gift of greater mobility through a donation. You too can be a part of this amazing venture, and all future Limb Kind Foundation ventures, by making a donation here: Limb Kind Foundation.