A piece I reported back in the winter that recently ran in the Québec Chronicle-Telegraph >/a>.
Louise Brissette’s phone never stops ringing. Her spacious farmhouse echoes with children’s shouts. As the adoptive mother of over 30 special-needs children, she’s used to being on call at all hours.
“I sleep only about four or five hours a night,” says Brissette, 67. “For a while I used roller skates to get around the house, it was faster.”
Brissette is the founder of La Petite Béquille, a home for children and youth with severe disabilities, nestled on a farm in the village of St-Anselme, between Lévis and Beauceville.
The children’s level of independence varies widely. Two of the older students have gone on to university and professional careers. Some attend the local public school and others take classes or learn trades at the accredited school on the farm. Several others need feeding tubes and constant attention. “I’ve adopted 37 children and 27 are still living,” Brissette says. In addition to the resident children who Brissette has legally adopted, others come for brief visits or summer getaways. “Hospitals call me, parents call me, friends of parents call me,” she says.
Brissette’s home is years in the making. “I always knew I wanted to work with children, she recalls. “When I was in high school, around the time you start thinking about choosing a career, I saw a picture of a physiotherapist working with a child who had leg braces.”
Brissette got a degree in physiotherapy from Université Laval and went to train physiotherapists in Ecuador. “At the time, there were a lot of children who had had polio, and they were on the side of the road, abandoned. For me, that was the biggest crime anyone could commit, leaving the kids alone.” On another training mission, in Cameroon, Brissette noticed the same problem.
“When I came back to Quebec, I decided to adopt a handicapped child,” she remembers. Jean-Benoit, a 7-month-old baby with developmental delays who had been abandoned at Ste-Justine Hospital in Montreal, would be the first of Brissette’s children. Now in his 30s, Jean-Benoit has a driver’s licence, lives alone and helps his mother manage the farm.
“He was always very open to having brothers and sisters, it was never a problem,” says Brissette. The family expanded, moving to bigger and bigger Quebec City apartments until Brissette was finally able to purchase the St-Anselme farm with a series of large donations.
“And so here we are,” she says. “We’ve extended the family all the way to Haiti.”
Brissette decided to extend the program to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake in that country. “There were a lot of children there who had become handicapped and lost their families. I wrote to (former governor-general) Michaëlle Jean, (Haitian-Canadian author) Dany Laferrière, anyone I could think of, and they all said, ‘what you’re doing is great but we can’t help you.’”
“Finally, I had a guest here from Haiti, and she said, these kids have lost their health and lost their families, and if you bring them to Canada, they’ll lose their country. Why don’t you start a project in Haiti?” Brissette recalls. “I thought that made a lot of sense.”
Barely four years later, Brissette acquired a house in Delmas, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, a gift from a departing order of nuns. Véronique Delaire, who once worked at the St-Anselme farm, manages the house with help from Haitian co-workers and neighbours. When the QCT visited the large, airy ranch house before the New Year it was empty, but now five preschool-aged children live there.
“They were really undernourished,” says Brissette. “The children are four or five years old and wear clothes for nine-month-old babies. People who work in Haitian orphanages have no idea how to care for special needs kids, they don’t have the training. But we’re working on it.”
Brissette and Delaire have also set up an exchange program for the older St-Anselme students, who travel to Haiti on a rotating basis. “The kids all wait for their turn to come,” says Delaire, who worked at an organic food store before becoming a special educator. “They identify with the mission and it helps them grow up.”
“They don’t judge,” Delaire says. “They just want to love and be loved. All we have to do is be with them and love them.”
For Delaire, staying in Haiti has had its difficult moments. “Nothing is adapted (for handicapped people) here, we’ve had to adapt it all ourselves,” she says. “There are no street lights, no street signs, and at times there’s no electricity or running water. But I feel like God called me to do this, and you don’t mess around with God.”
The dearth of conveniences doesn’t seem to faze Delphine Brissette, 15, a St-Anselme student with Down Syndrome. Au contraire. As Delaire speaks, a series of high-pitched, birdlike whoops come from a corner of the yard. Although Delphine does talk, the idea of leaving the Delmas house has her lost for words.
“She’s crying,” says Delaire. “She doesn’t want to go back.”
The La Petite Béquille houses in St-Anselme and Delmas function entirely on donations, be they in cash or in kind. If you would like to help or organize a fundraiser, please contact Louise Brissette (firstname.lastname@example.org).