Schneily Similien barely remembers life before the earthquake. He was not quite 4 when the massive temblor struck last Jan. 12, destroying his home and shattering the child’s left leg.
For the young amputee, the reality of post-quake Haiti is the only world he knows. It’s a place where families live in tents because the houses are too broken. It’s a place where there’s little food and not enough money, and where wearing an artificial leg is just what you have to do.
Schneily, who turns 5 on Feb. 4, has grown an inch and a half in this world, and sprouted two shoe sizes. He learned to ride a bike through rubble, and to kick a soccer ball while balancing on a prosthetic limb.
Still, in many ways, his family is more fortunate than others. They escaped many of the miseries that descended on the nation even after the dust from the quake settled. No friends or family contracted cholera and the violence that shattered Port-au-Prince after the country’s failed election didn’t reach here.
Mostly, Schneily’s family has been trying to move on, to build a new life slowly from the remains of the old. His father, Ducarmel, 41, and mother, Darline, 38, rise each morning at 5 a.m. to get their older sons, Scarcely, 13, and Schmeider, 10, ready for school.
Until last week, Schneily had to stay home. He was asked not to return to the local kindergarten until his parents could come up with the equivalent of $875 in tuition payments. Thanks to donations from msnbc.com readers, he’ll be able to attend for the rest of the year.
One reader’s donation of $500, made through the nonprofit bank Fonkoze, also paid a year’s rent on a small roadside store, dubbed “The Schneily Store,” where the Ducarmel and Darline are starting to sell snacks and drinks to passersby.
Schneily has put a lot of wear on his artificial limb, which was provided by the prosthetic clinic at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles. In the last year, the clinic operated by the Hanger Orthopedic Group has provided limbs for more than 700 amputees, company officials said.
Last weekend, Jay Tew, the Louisiana prosthetic expert who started the clinic, reunited with Schneily and his family in Leogane. Tew adjusted Schneily’s leg and took measurements for the future.
“In the next months, we’ll swap it out and get a new one,” he said. “I told his parents to just let him be a kid.”