A native of Gonaïves, Dr Ivens Louis studied the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries in Argentina and did his PhD in physical therapy in the US – but he always felt drawn to return to Haiti with his hard-earned expertise to work with children and young people with disabilities.
Louis began his career in the Dominican Republic, and early on remembers treating a little boy who had to travel with his parents all the way from Cap-Haïtien to Santo Domingo for rehab. The family had to stay for a month they could ill afford – and that case made up his mind.
In 2009, Louis began fortnightly clinics in Ouanaminthe, combined with information meetings to impress on parents the need to have children with disabilities or cognitive impairment treated as soon as they were diagnosed. There was resistance to his message – but he felt bound to persevere.
It was two years later that Dr. Ivens Louis decided to return fulltime to Haiti. He borrowed a small room in a clinic in Ouanaminthe where his brother, Dr Presner Louis, is an obstetrician/gynecologist, and Fondation Haitienne de Réhabilitation (FONHARE) was born. In 2013, he moved to new premises in the grounds of his brother’s clinic offering a rehabilitation service through physical therapy, occupational therapy and most recently added speech therapy – the only service of its kind available in Haiti. FONHARE now has a fulltime staff of 10 and to date has treated over 1500 patients.
One of Louis’s most radical programmes is “Independent Living”, which allows people in wheelchairs to live independently in their homes and communities. At the same time, his “Accessibility” project aims to combat discrimination, exclusion, and the absence of equal opportunities for the disabled. “This is all about a new perception of what it means to be disabled”, he says.