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Special Needs Advocacy in Haiti: Christovens' Story

Christovens is 11 years old and is a student in our special education class at LIFE Academy. Christovens has Down syndrome. 

When we started myLIFEspeaks, Christovens was hidden in a back room of his family’s house. Most people didn’t even know he was alive.

People didn’t know he existed.

When the Wilson family moved to Haiti with their three sons and two adopted Haitian daughters, they would take Lane in his wheelchair around the village. People would see how a Biblical family could look different than what they were used to in Haiti. The seeds of truth were being planted in minds and hearts that people with special needs were also individuals with worth, dignity, and value, and made in the image of God.

Then Izzy, our first teacher, would take the special education classroom of four special needs individuals at the time for a daily walk around the village. The first students were Cammie, DouDoune, Jay, and Obassen.

People laughed at them and made jokes. But for the first time, people with special needs started to be seen. One day, Izzy had enough of the jokes and jeers.

She confronted the men who were playing dominoes and making mean comments about Cammie. She pulled up Cammie’s wheelchair to them and with confidence started asking Cammie different questions in Creole, French, and English which Cammie understood and answered. This took the men completely by surprise that this girl with special needs who was confined to a wheelchair could understand three languages, more than they could speak or understand.

Their view of Cammie and people with special needs in general started to change.

Missy, myLIFEspeaks' Co-Founder, recently commented on how pivotal this interaction was. “She (Cammie) is captured in her body but she can think like this. You (the men) are captured in your mind… what if you could think like Cammie does and see people differently,” she said.

Today, Neply is not only a safe place for individuals with special needs but the community has been transformed into one that values, celebrates, and honors those with special needs.

Christovens at Night To Shine Haiti, a special prom night experience for individuals with special needs.

This village that once hid away people with physical or mental differences now embraces and celebrates them. Christovens is one of these individuals.

His life has been completely transformed because of myLIFEspeaks, not only because of the level of acceptance of people with special needs but also because of the programs and services myLIFEspeaks offers.

Christovens attends school at LIFE Academy and brings so much JOY to our school and all who know and love him. He always adds his own little twist and flare to any song we are singing - whether it be the national anthem, praise and worship song, or a silly song they are learning in class. (See video below) He is also an expert on the hand drums in music class.

Christovens has also greatly benefitted from physical therapy at myLIFEspeaks’ LIFE Therapy Clinic. He was a late bloomer when it came to walking and if it had not been for therapy, Christovens would have missed out on some very key stages in his development.

At school, Christovens has gained invaluable knowledge about himself and his capabilities. Not only is he learning basic academic skills, but he is also learning skills that help him become more independent at home like getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and bathing by himself.

Christovens is also learning what it's like to live alongside and make lifelong friends here at LIFE Academy. It’s evident that when Christovens is at school, he feels extremely safe and comfortable in his own skin.

Once hidden away, today Christovens is a light and cherished member of the community.

Christovens dancing on-stage at myLIFEspeaks' 12th Anniversary party.

This story gives us so much hope for how God is moving and working in hearts and minds in Haiti to change the stigmas surrounding people with special needs. Christovens story is one of many.

Other communities have also taken notice of what is happening in Neply. 

The broader community and region of Leogane, where Neply is, is now discussing the possibilities of adding special education curriculum into other schools in the region. This was never even a consideration before!

The Ministry of Education in Leogane has reached out to our LIFE Academy Director, Jean Yves, about the possibility of implementing special education training into Haitian Teacher’s Training in Leogane. This is HUGE!

We can’t wait to see all that God will continue to do in years to come. As always, everything is for His Glory. Thank you, God for what you’re doing in Neply and beyond.

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