BlazeSports Delegation Concludes Haiti Trip, Returns Home

Haitian boys saying goodbye to the BlazeSports team.

I am happy to report that after an eventful (and dare I say adventurous) trip, our BlazeSports delegation has returned home from Haiti safe and sound. The team’s last few days in the island country were amongst their most productive. On Friday, they spent hours in the car, traveling to meet organizations and advocacy groups and to distribute equipment and supplies in towns throughout the south of Haiti. After crossing the mountains to Jacmel, the capital of the Sud-Est department, our cadre had a fruitful meeting with the departmental coordinator of volunteerism in the disability community. They also visited a small hotel and conference facility that could be used as a site for training regional volunteers and professionals in the future. The BlazeSports team then journeyed back to their rugged accommodations where they debriefed and discussed a strategy that accounts for the country’s needs a year and a half after the earthquake.

The team couldn’t help but pull over for a quick stop at the beach on their way to Jacmel.

The delegation left Haiti on Saturday, and they were touched when several members of independent disability organizations came to say goodbye and to help the BlazeSports team transport their luggage to the airport. We are deeply pleased at the progress we’ve made in identifying the grassroots service organizations who are making a ground-level difference in the fields of sports and recreation for youth and adults with disability. After three trips to Haiti, we are succeeding in sorting out which of the country’s organizations are most effective and most aligned with our values and vision. Our partnerships with organizations like SOHaMO hold promise for meaningful future collaboration.

The trip may be over, but our efforts continue. Our commitment to Haiti is strong, as is our friendship with many in the nation’s disability community. All of us at BlazeSports are proud of our staff and partners who made this trying but fruitful trip, and would like to offer a special thanks to Dr. Michael Riding and Gillian Sharp, who traveled from rural Oregon and Scotland respectively to participate in this project. We’d also like to thank Mighty 8th Media for understanding the power of pictures and making it possible for the BlazeSports team to communicate our vision and our efforts, and we offer our gratitude to all of you who provided personal donations to make this and other humanitarian efforts possible. You know who you are, and we are deeply thankful for your generosity.

A SOHaMO girl paints with materials donated by Marc and Gaye Chatov.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, the BlazeSports delegation decided that no rinse body wash was practically heaven (Sportaid).

Back in the US, Carol Mushett (center) and Dr. Michael Riding (right) debrief over brunch with your humble blogger, Travis Mushett (left).

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BlazeSports Meets with the Haitian Ministry of Sport

Lindsay Mushett leads the U-13 boys in stretches at the Ministry of Sport compound.

Another day, another successful meeting for the BlazeSports team in Haiti. Yesterday, our multinational delegation participated in a positive planning session with Daniel Pierre-Charles, the Director General of the Haitian Ministry of Sport, and Jean Chevalier Sanon, President of the Haitian Paralympic Committee (HPC). Together they laid out plans for future projects to build sports programming and promote health services for Haitians with disabilities, taking special care to address the particular interest that the Ministry and Mr. Pierre-Charles hold in addressing the needs of children and youth.

While at the Ministry of Sport compound, sport specialist Lindsay Mushett presented the Ministry with soccer balls and a small donation on behalf of Columbia University Women’s Soccer, the team that she captains. Mr. Pierre-Charles proceeded to call the U-13 boys’ team out of class for an impromptu practice so that they could take advantage of Lindsay’s skills and expertise. The Ministry of Sport offers residence, training, and schooling for Haiti’s young athletes. Both boys and girls are offered these opportunities, but the girls soccer teams were off campus at the time of the BlazeSports visit. After playing in the heat and humidity of the country’s tropical climate, Lindsay claims that she would be the fittest player in her division if she trained in Haiti full-time.

Lindsay presents a coach and trainer at the Ministry of Sport with soccer balls donated by Columbia University Women’s Soccer.

This damp, muggy weather brings with it an unwelcome guest: mosquitoes. The BlazeSports delegation has joked that they don’t need any souvenirs since they’ll all be bringing home mosquito bites. However, they know that the dangers of these disease-spreading insects are very real. Mosquitoes can carry malaria, an illness for which the entire team has been preemptively medicated. Haiti holds other microscopic dangers, including the water and foodborne illness cholera. Unfortunately, anti-cholera medication is practically impossible for civilians to acquire in the United States. We are all very thankful that board and delegation member Dr. Michael Riding was able to utilize his medical contacts in Canada to acquire the medication. His efforts have ensured that our team is safe and ready for the threats posed by the tropical environment.

Today the team is heading to Jacmel, the capital of the country’s Sud-Est department. Updates soon!

Technical Officer of the HPC Milien Chery (standing in the red button-up shirt) directing a practice at the Guymaliry Camp.

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WHO and World Bank Issue Expansive Report on Disability

WHO logo, courtesy of 5 Magazine.

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank released a sprawling joint report on the global state of persons with disability. The 349-page World Report on Disability, available here, assesses the condition of the approximately 1 billion people worldwide who live with disabilities and makes concrete policy and organizational recommendations regarding disability rights.

The Report cites inadequate policies, standards, and funding and a lack of evidence and data as major hurdles to ensuring equality and accessibility on a global scale. Its suggestions are many, and include increases in qualitative research, communication efforts, and coordination between governments and NGOs. BlazeSports applauds the efforts of the WHO and World Bank to draw attention to issues surrounding disability and offer concrete suggestions for those with the power to foment change.

We at BlazeSports know that the problems facing people with disabilities are global in scope, and, as our team in Haiti this week demonstrates, we are tackling these issues with an appropriately global vision. The World Report on Disability promises to be a useful tool for us and for our partners around the world as we continue our international efforts.

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Basketball Clinic in Cité Soleil is a Slam Dunk

Stevenson, a 4-year-old resident of Cité Soleil, steadies himself to sink a basket.

Yesterday, our intrepid team ventured back into Cité Soleil, the Port-au-Prince neighborhood that the United Nations has described as the most dangerous place on earth. The occasion: a basketball clinic hosted by BlazeSports in cooperation with two local sports organizations.

Led by BlazeTEC Director and seasoned wheelchair basketball expert Dan Humphreys and facilitated by the entire BlazeSports team and members of the Haitian Paralympic Committee (HPC), the clinic drew nearly two dozen participants with a variety of disabilities. Children and young adults in wheelchairs dished passes to amputees on crutches, and a man on makeshift handcycle even joined in on the fun. All attendees honed their skills with drills and instruction on dribbling, passing, and shooting, but the day’s MVP award would probably have to go to Stevenson, a 4-year-old denizen of Cité Soleil who was determined to play with the big kids (see the picture above). I’m told that Stevenson’s young age and leg amputation weren’t enough to stop him from delivering a showstopping slam dunk that would make Dirk Nowitzki jealous. All he required was a small assist from his BlazeSports teammates to reach the rim.

Stevenson slams it home with an assist from BlazeSport’s Felipe Rodrigues.

Felipe and Dan of BlazeSports and Evans of the HPC instruct clinic attendees on the game’s finer points.

After the clinic, the BlazeSports delegation had a long and fruitful talk with the leaders of the local sports organizations. It quickly became clear that even here, in the roughest neighborhood in one of the world’s most troubled countries, the desire for competition and the potential for a growth in sports programming is strong. The discussion about the future of basketball for people with disabilities in the country was so engaging that the sun was setting before the BlazeSports team returned to their compound.

Today our delegation will meet with Daniel Pierre-Charles, the Director General of the Ministry of Sport, and host a soccer workshop for U 17 girls. It promises to be another action-packed day, so stay tuned for further updates.

Dan poses with some up-and-coming Haitian athletes.

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BlazeSports Visits Our Friends in SOHaMO

BlazeSports’ Senam Apaloo with a child who lost his leg in the January 2010 earthquake.

In the wake of Monday night’s flooding, the BlazeSports delegation was glad to find the SOHaMO (Society for the Handicapped and Aged) encampment largely unharmed when they arrived there yesterday afternoon. They were also thrilled, if not surprised, at the tremendous progress SOHaMO has made since our first visit in April 2010 and even since our most recent trip in October. Where a year ago we saw improvised shelters and beds made literally of rocks, our team now finds large, livable tents organized and numbered to ensure every member is accounted for and can be quickly located. The ingenuity and dedication of the camp residents has proven to be unconquerable.

A child in a BlazeSports t-shirt plays outside of the new numbered tents at SOHaMO.

Our squad came equipped to help this progress continue at SOHaMO, now officially a BlazeSports club. They arrived with all manner of provisions to distribute to the camp, from medical supplies, crutches, clothing, and flashlights to sports equipment, makeup, chalk, paper, paints, and bubble solution. The members of SOHaMO expressed deep gratitude not only for the supplies, but also for the simple act of being remembered. Many reported that would have been delighted to see the BlazeSports staff again even if they had arrived empty handed. This is a sad reality of disaster relief. In the immediate aftermath of events like the 2010 earthquake, people from throughout the developed world open their wallets and governments and NGOs send their professionals to the front lines. However, as time passes and public interest wains, the funds tend to dry up and the previously heartfelt commitment tends to wither, whether or not the problems on the ground have been remedied. BlazeSports is dedicated to stay with our friends in Haiti for the long haul. However, we can’t do it without you. If you value the work we are doing around the world to help people with disabilities, please consider contributing to our efforts with an online donation.

The BlazeSports contingent had a fruitful meeting with Jean Kesson, the President of SOHaMO. He is a young and dynamic leader, full of ideas about disability rights advocacy in Haiti. We look forward to working with Kesson and helping his organization continue to progress. The whole SOHaMO community seemed interested in the proceedings. I’m told a little boy–just a toddler–was caught peeking his head through the door flaps of the meeting tent, presumably eagerly eavesdropping on the future of our ongoing partnership with SOHaMO and the Haitian Paralympic Committee.

SOHaMO children painting with BlazeSports board member Dr. Michael Riding.

Felipe Rodrigues, Gillian Sharp, Lindsay Mushett, and SOHaMO children take a quick break from soccer to pose for a picture

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Wounded Soldiers to Compete at GA Champs Sports Festival

Even with so much going on in Haiti, it’s important to remember BlazeSports’ continuing stateside efforts. Tomorrow and Thursday we will be hosting the GA Champs Sports Festival at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs, Georgia. The event will include 25-30 active duty members of the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) from Ft. Stewart as well as veterans from both Georgia and out-of-state. They will be invited to participate in archery, swimming, sit volleyball, track and field, and wheelchair basketball in Warm Springs’ state of the art facilities. The entire Blaze family is getting in on the act, with members of our Georgia Blazers youth teams working as volunteers and engaging the WTU basketball team in a scrimmage match.

If you have any questions about the GA Champs Sports Festival, feel free to contact the BlazeSports staff at 404-270-2000.

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Massive Flooding in Haiti, BlazeSports Delegation Safe

File picture, courtesy of Earthzine.

Torrential rain struck Haiti last night, turning many of the nation’s already rugged streets into rushing rivers and inflicting yet more damage on homes, vehicles, and, sadly, people. The Hindustan Times reports that seven are confirmed dead, but final numbers are still unknown.  I spoke to the BlazeSports delegation moments ago and they assure me that they’re all safe. Their night, however, was certainly eventful.

As I reported yesterday, the car of Haitian Paralympic Committee staffer Milien “Evans” Chery was swept away by a flash flood. Today, I got the full story. Evans and Leon, another HPC employee, returned to Leon’s home last night. To escape the rising waters, the two men and Leon’s wife–who is currently expecting a child–climbed onto the roof of the building in time to see Evans’ car succumb to the rushing waters. They then heard the cries of two children who had been caught in the flood, and Evans–an experienced swimmer–dove into the water and managed to rescue both children from the eddy that had captured them.

Meanwhile, Carol Mushett and Felipe Rodrigues of BlazeSports and John Chevalier Sanon of the HPC traveled into Cité Soleil to check on the Blaze Club at SOHaMO (Society of Handicapped and Aged). They used a four-wheel drive diesel truck that could safely transport them through high waters, but the combination of severe weather and darkness prevented them reaching the organization’s encampment. They have, however, been in communication with SOHaMO members and reports suggest that the camp was badly damaged in last night’s floods. When I spoke with the BlazeSports delegation this morning, they were preparing to head to SOHaMO to offer whatever assistance is necessary.

Just as when our team was in Gonaïves during October’s cholera outbreak, BlazeSports continues to be in the right place at the right time. In times of need, we stand prepared to help our friends in Haiti however we can.

The BlazeSports contingent includes:

  • Carol Mushett – BlazeSports – Chief Executive Officer
  • Dr. Michael Riding – BlazeSports – Board Member
  • Dan Humphreys – BlazeSports – Director of BlazeTEC
  • Gillian Sharp – Sport Specialist from Scotland
  • Senam Apaloo – BlazeSports – BlazeTEC Project Coordinator
  • Felipe Rodrigues – BlazeSports Intern
  • Lindsay Mushett – Sport Specialist

In brighter news, the team reports record attendance at a certification conference for disability sport professionals yesterday. Expect an update on that event once the emergency situation subsides.

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