To Haiti with Love

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The dichotomy of the Haitian people includes beauty, poverty, filth, hope and resiliency.

Just over 1,300 miles from Chattanooga is located the poorest country in the world—Haiti. At the epicenter of international aid, Haiti has a poverty rate of 77 percent, according to the World Bank, and this high rate of poverty was worsened in the wake of the 2010 Earthquake, which left the country struggling to recover to this day.

Long before the 2010 Earthquake ravaged Haiti though, Chattanoogans have been actively outreaching to the world’s poorest country. Local not-for-profit organizations Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti and Every Eye Will See Him Ministries have worked with supportive healthcare, education, nutrition, job training, and infrastructures from to church and medical group trips.

Post earthquake in Haiti, locals were moved to housing referred to as “tent city.”

Local prosthetist and orthotist Jim Rogers is among Chattanooga’s everyday heroes who have immersed themselves in years of service to Haiti and other impoverished countries across Central and South America, and the Caribbean, including Mexico. Along the way, Rogers has met and worked with other local humanitarians who are making extraordinary efforts to uplift women, children, and the disabled.

Giving the Gift of Life-Changing Mobility
As a young man, Jim Rogers dreamed of becoming a writer. However, his father had been encouraging him to choose a more stable career. “It was my Dad’s greatest gift,” Rogers says in reflection. His father had gone through multiple back surgeries, and everything changed for Rogers one day when he walked into his father’s hospital room to see an orthotist fitting him with a back brace. Rogers had an immediate interest. “I thought to myself, ‘I can do that,’” he remembers.

A baby girl receives a new cast by a physician in Haiti.

Rogers followed the orthotist from the hospital all the way back to his office and asked him for a job. Impressed by the young man’s persistence, the orthotist told Rogers, “Son, you have chutzpah, I can use that.” A few years later, Rogers was accepted to New York University’s Prosthetics and Orthotics program. “And I never looked back,” he says.

In the early 1990s, Rogers began his medical mission work to Chetumal, Mexico where he fit patients with prosthetics and braces, eventually setting up an orthotic clinic along with job training for local technicians. “The smile on someone’s face when you’ve helped them get their mobility back is worth more than any money I could ever have,” he says.

Rogers saw hundreds of patients ranging from diabetics to trauma victims. However, the program ended abruptly when the current Mexican President chose not to seek re-election and the government shifted its priorities for healthcare outreach. Within a month of the door closing to Mexico though, a new door opened for Rogers to team up with UTC graduate Dr. June Hanks, PT, PhD and a group from Chattanooga to begin work in Haiti.

Dr. Rogers doing missionary work while teaching local Haitians to measure and cast patients.

Upon landing in Haiti, Rogers noticed a marked difference in poverty from what he had seen in Mexico with far less infrastructure and healthcare available, and only one orthotic facility in Port-Au-Prince and one in North Haiti. Hanks and Rogers set out to establish a new orthotic clinic seven hours south of Port-Au-Prince, called Advantage Program in Les Cayes.

When the 2010 Earthquake hit, the need for prosthetics and orthotics was greater than ever. “The facility in Port-Au-Prince was destroyed and the Haitian workers were killed,” Rogers says. “For a while we were the only facility available and we saw hundreds of people.” With funding from the Chattanooga-based Jordan Thomas Foundation and Medical Teams International, the Advantage Program in Les Cayes quickly became a robust orthotic clinic with training for local technicians who carry on the work to this day.

Rogers notes the larger, cultural impact the Advantage Program has made in Les Cayes because of the comprehensive rehabilitation program his partner Dr. June Hanks has developed to empower the women, children, and disabled. “Haiti has a patriarchal society and the women there are devalued,” Rogers explains. Through Dr. Hank’s rehabilitation program, disabled women are empowered to not only regain their physical mobility, but also to achieve economic mobility through education, job training, and micro businesses.

“Instead of being seen as disabled women, they have become little economic centers in their villages,” Rogers says. “It is life-changing to give someone back their mobility and independence. It impacts their family and their ability to be social and to have a job. It’s tremendously satisfying work and profound.”

From Haiti to Honduras: Ruby Leads the Way
New doors continue to open for Rogers to serve in Haiti and beyond. Meanwhile, here at his practice in Chattanooga he has been working with Ruby, a girl from Honduras who was burned in a fire when she was just an infant and lost her foot and two fingers. Ruby has been flown in and sponsored by the Jordan Thomas Foundation to receive prosthesis and medical care until she turns 18. And coincidentally, it was Ruby who led Rogers to new opportunities waiting for him in Honduras.

Dr. Rogers casting Ruby for her new prosthesis.

While attending a mission outreach meeting at his church, Rogers was looking at the slide presentation on an orphanage project in Honduras when he suddenly recognized the face of his patient, Ruby. “It was rather serendipitous,” Rogers says. “It hit me hard and I knew we needed to consider this seriously.” Since then, Rogers has connected with Eternal Family Project in Honduras, the orphanage, school, and home for girls operated by Allison Alexander from nearby Ringgold, Georgia.

“They are doing a remarkable job,” Rogers says. “Allison is an attractive, thirty-something woman who could have lived a much different lifestyle, but she chose to move to Honduras to run this orphanage and she has personally adopted over 21 children now.”

Ruby, Dr. Rogers’ patient, here in Chattanooga, fishing prior to receiving her new prosthetic leg.

While the work in Honduras has mainly focused on infrastructure so far, including roofing and electricity for the Eternal Family Project house, Rogers looks forward to eventually opening medical and orthotic clinics.

“The oldest of the young women who were taken in by Allison are doing amazing things with their lives,” Rogers says. “One is in medical school, one is in law school, and another is studying to be a nurse practitioner. The hope is for the young woman who is in medical school to return and run the medical clinic one day.”

Mobilizing a True Sharing Economy
Through the years, Jim Rogers has landed in Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, and beyond with a desire to not only serve the immediate physical needs of people by fitting them for prosthetics and orthotics, but also to educate and provide job training for local people to rise above the confines of poverty and to carry on the work when he returns home to Chattanooga. This approach goes far beyond simple charity or short-term mission, it offers life-changing mobility through education, empowerment, and true embodiment of the sharing economy principle, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

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Writer Melissa Turner is actively involved in community development and the city of Chattanooga.

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