WATFORD TO ACT AS BASE FOR EARTHQUAKE-HIT HAITI'S BRAVE PARALYMPIANS
(Watford Observer) - By Adam Binnie
A team of disabled athletes from Haiti, many of whom were injured in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, has chosen Watford as its base for the 2012 Paralympic Games.
It was on January 12, 2010, that the Caribbean country of Haiti suffered a major earthquake, measuring seven on the Richter scale, which killed or injured hundreds of thousands of its people.
Following the earthquake, an international campaign was started in the UK with the aim of putting together a team of Haitian athletes for this year's Paralympic Games in London.
That team, the first ever assembled in Haiti, will travel to Watford this summer to set up camp in Woodside Stadium, in Horseshoe Lane.
Performance coach Malcolm Wallace is working both in the UK and in Haiti to develop the infrastructure and knowledge required to provide sporting opportunity to all of those injured.
He said the disabled competitors must not only train hard to perform at their best, but must also fight against the stigma of disability.
Mr Wallace said: "In the UK we now understand and look towards total integration for all members of the community. In Haiti, disability is seen as a stigma, with the disabled seen as having no value in their community and are very much neglected.
"We hope that by developing a Paralympic group and coaching from some of the top coaches available, we hope sport can help towards resolving the issues.”
As a professional coach, Mr Wallace trains both able-bodied and disabled athletes in an integrated squad, often competing together.
He added: "If we can develop the same type of programme in Haiti, it will go a long way to resolving the issues over there."
The initial shock of the earthquake was centred on the capital Port-au-Prince and was followed by 15 aftershocks, 12 of which had a magnitude greater than five.
It has been reported that 300,000 people died, and a similar amount were injured.
Lucy Woodbridge, from Rickmansworth, volunteered with disabled children at an orphanage in Port au Prince after the earthquake.
She said: "The staff did not understand how to treat the children and this made them stressed. The people just did not understand why the kids acted the way they did.
"I think the Paralympic team will help to show its normal to have a disability."
So far, athletes trying to get to London 2012 include 28-year-old Josue Cajuste, competing in the men’s F54 shot and javelin, and 33-year-old Nephtalie Louis in the women’s F54 shot and Javelin.
Both were paralysed from the waist down during the disaster and have undergone rehabilitation to be able to compete.
Two local churches, St Marys and St Luke’s, have offered to help to host the team, along with other members of the community.
Mr Wallace added: "Their suffering is not only physical but also continues through the mental anguish of being considered worthless by members of their own community.
"Unlike many of the larger nations Haiti is a very poor country in terms of finance and one of our aims before the Olympics is to get some funding for uniforms, equipment and their flights to the UK."
It is hoped the games will kick-start a disability sports programme in Haiti and inspire the building of a new sports centre.
Mr Wallace added: "People in Haiti are practising their throws in a car park, or running on roads and grass, and you've got people in other countries complaining they need an indoor stadium.
"I watch them and look at their throw distances and think, if I just moved their hand this way or that, they could be in contention for some good medals."
For more information visit www.haitidream.org or haitihospitalappeal.org , or email Malcolm Wallace via firstname.lastname@example.org .