“Di m’ ki sa ou renmen, m’a di ou ki moun ou ye.”
Tell me what you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.
History of PAZAPA & the Siloé Project
In 1982, a group of volunteers from the San Francisco Bay area, including Peter Cunningham (right) and Patty Westerbeke, came to Haiti to work at Mother Teresa's hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS in the La Saline slum of Port-au-Prince. Inspired by this experience, they established the Siloé Project, a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit, to raise funds in support of community-led initiatives in Haiti.
Siloé's first project took the group to Jacmel in order to help a Haitian doctor rebuild his clinic and hospital, which had been destroyed by a hurricane in 1980. Through this experience, Siloé's founders met Dr. Abel Gousse, a local community leader and clinic doctor, and Tony Antoine, a physiotherapist and local pastor (pictured center, training a mother to rehabilitate her daughter's clubfoot after casting) who remains on the PAZAPA team to this day. Doris Clark, a Peace Corps volunteer who worked as a nurse in the Cité Soleil slum, joined the coalition in 1985. Together, they rebuilt the hospital and clinic, assisted Dr. Gousse in resuming operations, and sponsored community health workers who established rural outreach programs bringing medical services to isolated villages. But with Dr. Gousse's sudden passing, the hospital and clinic were closed by the organization that owned them. By then, Siloé members had established a strong relationship with the community and intended to continue accompanying marginalized Haitian families.
Because there is no public safety net in Haiti and all health and education expenses are borne by parents, having a child with a disability creates an additional burden on families already living in extreme poverty. Stigmatizing misconceptions that are widely held in Haiti result in disabilities being commonly viewed as hexes used by angered deities to punish those who disobey, or curses applied in retribution for harms inflicted on others. Due to these norms, having a child with a disability in Haiti not only causes financial strain, but also brings enormous shame to families. Parents often separate because a father knows that if he has a child without a disability with another woman, the community will believe that the curse or hex was not his fault, but rather that of the mother's. It is believed that these conditions are contagious, so people living with disabilities are feared, shunned and often hidden away from public view in closets or back rooms.
By visiting homes on his bicycle throughout Jacmel and surrounding villages, Tony met these invisible children and came to recognize that there were many in Jacmel who were denied medical treatment, educational access, social development, and opportunities to participate as valued members of their communities. In partnership and consultation with Tony and families affected by disabilities in the Southeast Department, the Siloé Board decided to focus on working alongside this marginalized population. In 1987 with Siloé's support, the PAZAPA Center was established by Tony and Jane MacRae (left), a Canadian citizen living in Jacmel. After Jane died in 2008 her daughter Marika MacRae, who was born in Haiti and serving as PAZAPA's program director at the time, became Director. Over the years, PAZAPA has grown and diversified its programs through the support and collaboration of individuals and organizations throughout Haiti, Africa, the US, Canada and Europe.