“Unbreakable” reveals how earthquake amputees helped their country overcome stigmas and prejudice
A documentary about hope and healing in the midst of the horrific aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake was a featured presentation at the Portland Film Festival on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 2:30 p.m. at Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st Ave., Portland, Ore.).
“Unbreakable: A Story of Hope and Healing in Haiti” tells the amazing story of children who not only recovered physically, but also helped recast the perception of the disabled in Haiti — a country that is often considered one of the poorest in the world.
“This film shows that when there is the will do so — both in terms of those providing aid and those receiving it — lives can be saved and transformed by a program that is truly sustainable,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson, executive producer of the documentary. “The work of the dedicated medical staff and the unbreakable spirit of these Haitian young people — in circumstances most of us can’t imagine — are truly inspiring.”
The film focuses on a segment of Haitian society that might easily have been ignored — the thousands of children who underwent emergency amputations in order to survive the shocking carnage that unfolded four and a half years ago. Not only did these young people survive, they thrived and formed an amputee soccer team that helped to change the hearts and minds of many Haitian people.
“In Haiti, there has long been a stigma about disabled people,” explained Dr. Robert Gailey, rehabilitation coordinator for Project Medishare, the group that runs the amputee rehabilitation program in Port-au-Prince. “The traditional thinking was that disability somehow reflected a negative supernatural judgment on the person. This rehab program, and the soccer team, has really changed that way of thinking.”
In the wake of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, well over 100,000 people were killed and another 1.5 million left homeless. Countless thousands were seriously injured. As the events unfolded there were many stories of tragedy, but also of heroism and the unbreakable nature of the human spirit.
Touching on aspects of Haiti’s culture, turbulent history, and economic hardship, and drawing on the insights of numerous experts, “Unbreakable” tells the story of the many challenges faced and overcome by the Healing Haiti’s Children initiative, which offered free prosthetics and rehabilitation to every child injured in the earthquake.
To date, more than 1,000 children have received medical care as a result. The program was a partnership between the Knights of Columbus and the University of Miami’s Project Medishare for Haiti. Medishare provided medical expertise and treatment, and the Knights of Columbus provided funding of more than $1.5 million.
The program also resulted in the formation of an amputee soccer team, named Zaryen after the indomitable tarantula known for its ability to continue living even when it loses a limb. The team has inspired not only Haitians but also Americans, helping to teach amputee soccer to troops in the U.S. who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Five years later, the work continues, with Haitian workers helping to build a sustainable program.
“We're still here … one of the few prosthetic facilities that are still going,” says prosthetist Adam Finnieston in the documentary, referring to the new permanent rehabilitation clinic in Haiti that has fit more than 1,000 children and is now largely staffed by Haitians trained in this specialization since the earthquake. “That was our mission goal from the beginning, to build a sustainable facility … training locals.”
The film was produced by the Knights of Columbus together with Connecticut-based EVTV. One of the most active charitable organizations in the United States, the Knights of Columbus last year donated more than $170 million and 70 million hours of service.