Written by: Bethany Joseph, Director of Special Needs Programming at myLIFEspeaks
Listen to the audio version of this story, here.
“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity" - Proverbs. 17:17
This is an easy verse to memorize but is it easy to put into practice? In Haiti, people with disabilities are discriminated against, shunned, abandoned, and left alone. Many Haitians believe disabilities are tied to Voodoo curses and therefore don't want to be around people with disabilities. It is very difficult for people with disabilities in Haiti to find a friend, let alone a friend who loves them at all times.
myLIFEspeaks works counter-culturally to help Haitians understand and see people with special needs as beloved children of God, made in His image. One of the ways we do this is through our Zanmi Pou Lavi (Friends For LIFE) program. We pair individuals with special needs with typically-developing peers in Christ-Centered friendships. These friendships go beyond an acquaintance and toward the kind of friendship discussed in Proverbs. Children in the village who would normally be left alone or considered outcasts are now building relationships with peers.
The people in the Zanmi Pou Lavi program are living out this verse. They love their friend with special needs at all times, whether good or bad. One person I think of in particular that has benefited from Zanmi Pou Lavi, is a young woman named Sarah. Sarah is part of one of our family homes and has been with myLIFEspeaks for over seven years. Sarah has, what we have diagnosed as, post-traumatic stress disorder. She also has emotional and cognitive disabilities.
Sarah was brought to myLIFEspeaks after she was found in a different part of Haiti being chased by people with sticks, rocks, and bad intentions. Without the support of a family, she had been scavenging to survive. She had no friends. She had no one to love her unconditionally. She had no "brother born for a time of adversity."
After being rescued and brought to myLIFEspeaks, Sarah started slowly becoming part of different programming. She started attending school, with a one-on-one assistant and then joined our Zanmi Pou Lavi program, called Best Buddies at the time. Sometimes it is difficult for Sarah to participate in programs because of her behavior and outbursts. This makes it hard for her teachers, other students, and other members involved in Zanmi Pou Lavi.
However, members of Zanmi Pou Lavi, especially her peer buddy, Chela, have learned to love Sarah through her behaviors and outbursts. It may not be easy when she is hitting, kicking, pinching, or throwing things, but Chela has the best heart and loves Sarah through it all. Chela visits Sarah at her house, spends time with her, and picks her up for any events we have. Chela has every right to not want to spend time with Sarah, especially when she is being difficult and violent. But Chela knows Sarah is a person made in the image of God and she knows that a friend loves at all times.
Three years ago, Sarah was having issues with seizures that would not stop. We decided she needed medical help, which involved an air ambulance (helicopter). The concern that Chela had for Sarah was that of a true friend and not just an acquaintance. She went to see her before they put her in the helicopter and watched as she flew away. When Sarah was in the hospital in Port-au-Prince, Chela continued to ask how she was doing and prayed for her. I was in awe at this friendship.
Sarah went from people chasing her with sticks and rocks to having a true friend that was genuinely concerned about her health. Sarah has found a zanmi pou lavi (friend for LIFE) that loves her at all times and loves her through times of adversity. This friendship is not the only friendship that is thriving in the Zanmi Pou Lavi Program. There are dozens of other people in the program who are living out Proverbs 17:17. Regardless of if their buddy hits, spits, kicks, drools, or anything else, they are there to form a LIFE-long bond and it is beautiful to watch.