Olympic Champion enjoys Christmas

Darlene came to NPH Haiti when she was eight years old. Sadly she doesn’t have any memories of her biological family as she was abandoned at a young age at a rehab facility. In Haiti children with special needs face a lot of discrimination. Families with children with special needs can find themselves in situations of abject poverty, with no Government support to help them. In Darlene’s case she will never know the exact reasons why she was abandoned, but she doesn’t dwell on her difficult start in life.

When Darlene came to NPH she was given a second chance at life. Growing up, Darlene loved spending time with her friends, dancing, singing and playing games. At school Darlene struggled to excel in traditional subjects. She found it hard to adapt to the French language which is spoken at school instead of creole. Also, writing in cursive was always a big challenge. After a few years Darlene moved to our special needs home, Kay Christine, which is on the same St Helene property in the mountains of Kenscoff, not far from the capital Port-au-Prince.

Darlene was one of the first children to benefit from our horse riding programme. She excelled in this sport and even started participating in competitions overseas. In 2009 Darlene went to the Special Olympics held in Florida, where she received a “FEI Against all odds award”. Since then Darlene has also travelled to Denmark and Abu Dhabi to participate in competitions. In 2019 Darlene won a gold medal at the Special Olympics World Games. She says, “I felt so proud. Everyone was congratulating me and I was so happy for those who had travelled to see me compete and my coach.”

Watching Darlene riding, you would find it hard to believe that she can only use her left hand. She gallops over high jumps and leads the horse in intricate dressage skills. It is amazing to watch.

Darlene hopes to compete at a competition in Orlando next year. She says, “I would like to see many more Haitians with special needs competing at the games in Orlando. For myself, I hope to win more gold medals and inspire more Haitian girls to try sport and to do their best.” Darlene is the athlete representative on the Board of Special Olympics Haiti. “I am the voice of the athletes, I try to encourage them to do their best. I appear on TV and Radio to speak about the Special Olympics and the importance of participation and accessibility,” Darlene says with a big smile.

When Darlene isn’t training, you can find her working as an assistant in our special needs classroom at our school, St Germaine, closer to the city. She lives on site during the week and comes back to St Helene on the weekends to spend time with the younger kids. In her spare time she enjoys walking and dancing to keep herself fit.

Gena Heraty, the Director of Special needs says, “If Haiti were more secure and if people were more accepting of people with disabilities, Darlene could enjoy much more freedom as she is very capable despite some limitations. However, she would always need some level of assistance. In fact our home is too small. I dream of expanding, with more semi-independent living options for our family. More building and more staff and we can have really nice semi-independent living for our family, especially as they are ageing and this is their home for life.”

Christmas is a special time of year at NPH Haiti, and Darlene is always excited to participate in all the activities. One of the highlights for Darlene is the Secret Santa exchange between the staff. She also enjoys dressing up and participating in the staff party, as well as the talent competition between the departments. One of Darlene’s favourite activities, besides from horse riding, is dancing. At Christmas time there are many activities which involve dancing and singing, so this is a really enjoyable time of year for Darlene.

Here is a video of Kay Christine where Darlene grew up: