Walking and Dreaming Again in Haiti

December 28, 2010


Ever since Oscar was old enough to kick a ball across a dusty sports field in Port-au-Prince, his dream has been to play professional soccer—and also follow in the technological and philanthropic footsteps of his idol, Bill Gates. Those aspirations were very much alive for Oscar, now 23, in the moments just before the January 2010 earthquake tore through the walls of his three-story high school, killing all but two of his classmates. Oscar escaped with his life, but he lost 250,000 of his Haitian brothers and sisters—and his right leg—to one of this century’s worst natural disasters.

Oscar was sitting in economics class the morning of January 12 when the building started shaking violently, echoing sounds of falling debris and squeaking rebar.  He saw the staircase and center of the floor collapse, swallowing dozens of his friends fleeing toward the exit door. Clinging desperately to the building’s external wall—the only one still standing—Oscar made his decision: he jumped out of the building to safety on the rumbling ground.

Oscar did not have time to react to the massive pillar that came crashing down on his leg.  He spent the night pinned to the ground; 54 of his dear friends lay dead just a few feet from him.  By the time his father reached and pulled him out of the rubble the next morning, Oscar was one of three survivors from his 12th grade class. His right leg was amputated two days later.

The first thing that went through Oscar’s mind when he saw his severed limb was that he would never play soccer again; he would never play on a team that made it to the national soccer championships like he did last year.

“I saw so many amputees after the earthquake that I was sure I would never walk again,” Oscar said with a soft and regal tone that belies his devastation. “I figured, if they don’t have legs, I, too, will never have a leg.”

But then Oscar was referred by a friend to the Haiti University Hospital, where top Israeli medical professionals from JDC field partner Magen David Adom (MDA)/Tel HaShomer Hospital fit him for a state-of-the-art prosthesis. Through intensive physical rehabilitation with Israeli specialists, Oscar stretched, worked on parallel bars, and learned how to take one step at a time—again. With sheer determination and grace that impressed the therapists, Oscar soon graduated from two crutches to one, and then began to walk independently.

“The idea that there were people who were going to take care of me—to get me a prosthetic and help me walk on my own—allowed me to dream again,” he said.

Surveying the destruction and poverty all around him, Oscar says he is “committed now more than ever to be like Bill Gates.” He is studying computer programming with the long-term goal of effecting meaningful change by bringing health and education to Haiti and the developing world at large.

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories