“Since I was little, I was used to being around people with disabilities. My grandfather had a disability, so I was very curious to understand his condition and to better understand disabilities,” says Madame Zidor, the head social worker and assistant program administrator for the Spinal Cord Injury Program at St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti. Since the program’s inception five years ago, Madame Zidor has led efforts to provide spinal cord injury patients and program beneficiaries with a system of comprehensive psychosocial support.
Providing a “Little Push” and a New Start
“Patients are very resilient and want to get ahead. They just need a good start,” says Madame Zidor, a native of Port-au-Prince who earned her social work degree at the State University of Haiti. “They are able to become autonomous and learn to fight and advocate for themselves with good physical and mental health and the opportunity for education or work. As soon as they have this they can go far; they just need a little push.”
“It’s a widely held belief in Haiti that if you have a disability you are useless and not worth anything in society—you have no right to live or be happy,” reflects Madame Zidor. “So the first handicap that those with spinal cord injuries face is the way that people see people with handicaps. Through the support of the SCI program, participants’ hope begins to rise and patients learn to empower themselves and reject these prejudices.”
Madame Zidor’s determination to provide comprehensive care stems from her love of people and unwillingness to accept substandard and compassionless care for individuals with disabilities.
“It seems like in other hospitals there is no real focus on the challenges patients with disabilities are discussing and only a focus on discharging patients,” says Madame Zidor. “People with disabilities deserve better care. Patients face daily challenges with adjustment, nutrition, depression, and housing, which are not understood
Patients are very resilient and want to get ahead. They just need a good start.
when the focus is just on treating the sickness and not caring for the whole person. I want all our SCI patients to re-learn to give themselves value. I tell them you still have your voice, your place in your family, and you have the right to live and choose. Don’t ever let people decide for you. That’s the most important and most difficult thing to work on.”
Changing the Standard of Care
The comprehensive approach Madame Zidor speaks to is part of what makes SBHF’s Spinal Cord Injury program unique in Haiti. With support provided by USAID Haiti and Christian Blind Mission, SBHF not only works directly with individuals with spinal cord injuries to rehabilitate them while they are at the hospital, we also help them to reintegrate into their communities, ensure their living situations are tenable, continue to provide follow-up care in the towns throughout Haiti where they live, and educate their families and community networks about how to help and what is possible for them.
As a social worker, Madame Zidor is well qualified to treat the whole person. Though the work is often challenging, she finds comfort and joy in her patients’ progress. At any given moment during the day, Madame Zidor can be found facilitating support groups, organizing community advocacy events and reintegration activities, or making individual phone-calls to community-level participants with whom SBHF continues to work to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
“I love seeing patients move from an initial point of despair and feeling of abandonment by their former support system and family—who themselves are struggling to understand the patients’ new realities—to a point where they are loving themselves again and accepting their own situation,” says Madame Zidor. “I feel very happy to be working here.”