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New life after disaster

In 2010 Leon Gaisli suffered a spinal cord injury during a major earthquake in his home country of Haiti

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Flooding in Pakistan in 2010 affected 20 million people. Photo: Ashraf Mall/Tearfund

From: Managing disasters – Footsteps 88

How to prepare for disasters and reduce the risk of them occuring

Leon with his Swiss coach, Albert Marti.

Leon with his Swiss coach, Albert Marti. Photo: Carwyn Hill/Haiti Hospital Appeal

In 2010 Leon Gaisli suffered a spinal cord injury during a major earthquake in his home country of Haiti. He lost the use of his legs, but after rehabilitation at Haitian Baptist Convention Hospital in Cap Haïtien, Leon has become a keen hand-cyclist.

Hand-cycling allows people to power a bicycle with their arms instead of their legs. This activity has given him a real hope and strength to overcome the challenges before him. As well as enjoying the personal fulfilment, Leon proudly cycles to challenge stigma within Haiti with hopes of representing Haiti at the London Paralympics in 2012 and beyond. He became the first Haitian hand-cyclist to participate in an international competition when he represented his country at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Mexico. He hopes his testimony will be an encouragement to everyone around the world, and that through his cycling, mindsets will be changed in Haiti and internationally. Below he shares some of his story:   

Can you describe life before the earthquake?

I used to work in a hospital as a community health worker, giving vaccinations to children, promoting breast feeding and giving advice about child nutrition. I also worked on a building site and helped my wife with our business, selling peas, garlic and chicken bought from a local town called Dajabon.

What happened during the earthquake?

On the morning before the earthquake, I went to work at the hospital. I came home at four o’clock and was watching a movie with my family when I heard a loud noise on the street. I was about to go out to see what the matter was when the earth suddenly seemed to throw me upwards and I fell over. I saw the wall of my house crashing into pieces and one big section fell on me while I was near the exit. I stayed under the rubble for three days, but when the rubble was removed to free me, I became unconscious.

Can you tell us about your story since the earthquake?

My cousin lives in the USA but she always stays with my family when she comes to Haiti. She came to visit two weeks after the earthquake and found that the whole building where I lived had fallen down. She thought she had lost the whole family. She found out I was alive when I called her from the Dominican Republic where I was recovering. She told me that my whole family had died. I had a wife and eight children.

What helped you to rebuild your life since the earthquake?

After the earthquake, I surrendered everything into the hands of God. I now live like a person who has risen from the dead. All that God gives me, I accept. He brought me to the hospital and thanks to being here I am alive.

What are your hopes for 2012?

I would like to have a job again, even if I can’t do the same kind of work as before. Because God has given me life, I want Him to give me skills in order to do whatever He wants. I want God to help me to be useful to myself and my remaining children [from a previous relationship], the same way I could when I was able to walk. I always have tears in my eyes when I know that my poor cousin is helping my two daughters.

I have taken up hand-cycling and was able to represent Haiti at the Parapan Games in Mexico. I would be so proud to be able to go to the Paralympics this year. I want to show people around the world what people with disabilities can achieve. In Haiti, life is difficult for us because we face discrimination every day. I want that to change.

What message would you like to give out to the world?

God will care for both disabled and able-bodied people, God will always send a raven as He did for Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-6). Everyone has to praise God because we have the same value in God’s eyes. We need to pray, because one day we can sleep hungry but the next day God can change things. Let’s give God all the moments of our lives!

This interview was kindly arranged by the staff at the Haiti Hospital Appeal (HHA). You can find out more about their work by visiting or by emailing 
[email protected]

HHA is also working, in partnership with others, to raise support for a team of disabled Haitian athletes seeking to qualify for, and participate in, the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Visit for more information on this initiative.

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