This is the picture that's making me all happy-feely inside. There's just something about it. Maybe it's the mom's smile. Maybe it's the sparkle in her eye. Maybe it's the way she holds her baby, cheek to cheek, or the obvious pride she takes in dressing him to the nines. Maybe it's the way she's standing, all 17 years of her, erect with confidence.
This image drips with hope and promise. The economic kit that rests at her feet represents an unlimited number of opportunities. With it she will eat. Pay rent. Help her family. Put money in the offering basket. Take her baby to the hospital when he's sick. Take herself to the hospital when she's sick. Heck, she might even buy herself a brand-new pair of third-hand shoes when her plastic sandals refuse to be repaired, not even one final time. In a few years she'll send this baby to school. She'll be lauded as a smart and successful young person. She'll make good choices. She'll rise up from the flood-waters. She'll remind us that there is hope.
How can I be so sure? How can I sit here and tell you that 50 lbs of rice, a few gallons of oil, and some dried up fish will really take her to such hopeful places?
Because she came to the center every Monday and stayed Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday for 9 weeks!!! She wanted this opportunity and worked hard for it.
Nothing was more important to her than getting that sick baby healthy. It was obvious in the way she recorded every ounce of infant formula he drank and the way she cared about every gram of weight he gained. It was present in the way she dutifully checked his [cloth] diaper for signs of diarrhea, and the chipper way she sprang for the wash basin every time he soiled his clothes.
For me, the tell-tale sign was how she carried her kid. She had mom-swagger. Her 4 month old baby was sick because she had been ill-advised to stop breastfeeding and without mother's milk she didn't have the resources to keep him healthy. But at Second Mile, with some guidance and the right resources available to her, she was killing it. The way she carried her things to and from classes, a notebook and pen in one hand, the baby tucked into the crook of her arm, a spare blanket dangling from who knows where, and the baby's bottle with an ill-fitting couviture expertly balanced in the grip of hand #2. The way she masterfully utilized all 10 fingers and an elbow-armpit for crying out loud the way normal people (people who aren't moms) use only their two hands, told me this: she will be just fine. No, she'll be better than fine.
But even more compelling than mom-swagger is the fact that more than 40 other women have stood in that same spot, posed for a photo under that same tree, and then went home to "take care of business" with a new sense of "can do" and candor.
I'm so proud of the staff because they have to be doing a million things right for us to be able to see this much success with a program that could just of easily turned a million shades of wrong. But it's working. Follow-up visit after follow-up visit we see that children are getting better and better and with each passing month families are becoming stronger and more self-sufficient.
I had the great privilege of spending a few hours at the center, yesterday. I had to pick up some boxes of Medika Mamba and bring them out to the site. Normally Jenn handles that, but she's in the States, fundraising. During this season of fundraising, and goal-setting, and end-of-the-year reporting, I typically work from my "home office" more often than not. The land has too many tempting distractions. I'm simply not strong enough to work at a computer when I could be having conversations with the world's greatest moms, or watching our amazing staff work (which is mesmerizing, by the way), or playing with babies of the goat, canine, and human varieties. Basically, if I hope to get anything done I steer clear of the snare and work from the silent haven that is my kitchen. Except that yesterday I didn't. I made the 25 minute drive out to the site and these are a few of the things I witnessed while I was there.
Moms ministering to each other
I was trying to get my computer unfrozen so that I could share some information with our health workers. I was sitting in the clinic where two moms were waiting. Both women are program graduates and their time at the center had overlapped briefly. "I asked about you" said one mom to the other. "They told me you were at Milot (a hospital)." "No" the mom replied. "I was at Limbe (a different hospital). We were there for 11 days." She shakes her head and looks down at her daughter who has been doing well since the hospitalization.
"She had to be on serum (IV fluids). Every time they put in an IV, she ripped it out...(pause)... I cried" she confesses, still shaking her head.
"It was good for her" the other mom piped in reassuringly. "She needed it. The serum did what it was supposed to do."
Although they were discussing a difficult experience, it was a beautiful moment. I was struck by the fact that two women who live nearly four hours apart (one lives two hours from the center in one direction while the other lives nearly two hours away in the opposite direction), could share this moment of vulnerability and compassion. I was shocked to hear a mom speak so freely about her child being in the hospital for 11 days. Sometimes I sense shame. It's easy for a mother to feel like she's failed her child if she ends up in the hospital. But these moms have a good sense of self. They know they're doing a great job as moms. They know that illness happens and that sometimes it's preventable and sometimes it's not, but that it's never their fault. And I think they know that these sisters, the ones they met through this program, understand that better than anyone else. These friendships are built on the shared experience of crisis and triumph.
While the women were talking, Fara sat happily on the floor, playing like the professional player she's become. But then her mom decided to step out. As soon as she left, happy Fara started to wail. Neither I nor the other mom could console her. So we waited. The look on Fara's face when her mom reappeared was priceless. She started rocking her body, flapping her arms, and making what I can only describe as a the cutest smiling noise I have ever heard. I'm not a mom, so the closest thing I can imagine is how excited my dog is to see me after I've been gone for a few hours. This child was ecstatic and her mom had been gone for less than a minute. I couldn't possibly imagine these two, one without the other. Fara is well-attached, well-loved, and a source of joy to her mother.
Moms helping one another
"Who is that kid?" I asked Kerline as I tried to focus my gaze across that courtyard on the profile of a child I didn't recognize. I could make out the woman feeding the child. I knew her name was Cherline, but she was someone else's caregiver. Then another mom walks over and I realize who the baby is. Daniel has been coming to Second Mile with his mother every day for the past several weeks. He and his mom were program graduates back in March, but a few months ago her house was burglarized, her business stolen. We decided to employ her for a little while so that she could get back on her feet after the break-in. While she works, the other moms look out for Daniel. They feed him, play with him, and they call for her if he needs anything. I watched Cherline scrape the last of some rice out of the bowl and give Daniel one final spoonful. Then his mom picked him up and the two women smiled at each other. One went off to wash dishes, the other went off to wash her baby boy. Did that really just happen? Yes, yes it did.
Women happy to see one another succeed.
I was sitting with the cooks under the palm frond canopy that covers their space. We were talking about green charcoal and all the veritable ways Haiti has been moving forward in the last several months. There was a mom close by washing the pots from the afternoon meal. In my mind I pictured the freshly painted buildings I had passed earlier in the day, the solar powered street lamps newly installed in a highly populated but not-so-safe area of town, and the brand-new international airport just a few miles from where we were having this conversation. They spoke of education, aid, government, and NGOs. The underlying message was "now we know!" Jiji had an explanation. "Before people were just having a lot of kids and there wasn't a strong regard for education. But now people value education, they value family planning, they know how to do more. They know how to use the land better. They know that cutting down trees is bad." She made it seem so simple. Everyone deserves to learn right? Knowledge IS empowering. Children are learning these things in schools. Adults are attending meetings in their communities. There are radio messages and announcements in church... Information is spreading and the entire country will be the better for it. It was an energizing conversation that got better because of what she Jiji did next. Guillouse was leaving with her 2nd commerce package. The second commerce package is $100 of product that each program graduate is eligible to receive 2 1/2 months after she leaves Second Mile. It's an incentive based system that places value on the first business package by making the second disbursement dependent on the success of the first. For an opportunity to grow their business, the moms must be judicious with what they've been given, they must show that their business is growing because of the work they put into it, they must attend follow-up visits at the center and their baby must be meeting certain health markers. I watched Guillouse walk over to the gate and open it so Herode, who would take her home, could drive through. The moto was piled high with her stuff. Just as she was about to draw the gate closed Jiji called out to her. "I'm happy for you. Your life is changing." Guillouse smiled and nodded.
"Andy!" everyone said in unison when a recent program participant came through the gate with her grandson in toe. They were here for a follow-up visit. "Andy's been sick," the grandmother announced before greeting everyone in the room. Several mothers were sitting in the clinic and she knew most of them. "What did he have" I asked. "Diarrhea and vomiting" she replied. "I've been at the hospital with him. It was so bad I though he had cholera. They even put us in the cholera treatment unit."
"How long were you there?"
"Two nights," she answered. "The pregnant mom, with the boy... What was her name? She was there too. The boy had cholera." As she finishes her account of the Hospital, she opens her bag and takes out a plastic thermos of clear liquid presumably ORS. (oral rehydration solution), that she had prepared before leaving their home. She gives Andy a drink and the moms start to talk about something else. This was all I needed to see. She came with ORS which means that a) she knew that it was important, b) she knew how to make it and c) she had clean water and something to store it in for the trip. At this point I wasn't worried about Andy. I wasn't even worried about "the boy" (whom we determined to be another program graduate's younger brother). I was simply proud. This is exactly what is supposed to happen. Parents, and in this case, grandparents, are supposed to have the resources they need to get the help they need. Andy's grandmother and the mom she encountered at the hospital knew where to access healthcare, they knew when to access healthcare, and they could afford to access healthcare.
Isn’t it incredible that for less than $500 per pair, we can meet the physical needs of a child while supporting the child's guardian with food, a safe place to re-nourish, and assistance with medical care. And as things take a turn for the better, we're able to offer empowering education and supportive community, both of which help the caregivers feel confident in their ability to care for their child whether sick or healthy. The gardening classes inspire the moms and get their creative juices flowing. At the center/farm they get to participate in the growth-cycle of food and can take the skills (and the seeds) home with them. The business classes that caregivers attend give them a real-life chance to change their situation and remove some of the factors that contributed to malnutrition in the first place, namely the lack of income-generating activity. Then we get to see them doing their mom-thing. They come for follow-up visits with food. This is such a big deal! I can feel my ability to articulate flying out the window as a type this…I can feel something water-like in my eyes. It’s such a big deal. Mothers in desperate situations don’t have diaper bags. They don’t bring juice and snacks when they leave the house with their kids because they don’t have those things. But these moms do. It’s working.
Remember this kiddo? Maybe you don't. If you are new to our story you won't recognize these people. This is Jenn and I with Claire and her daughter, Marie Ange. This was our first mom on her first day. This was the beginning. We all got incredibly close to these two individuals. Their names have come up over and over again in our blogs. Marie Ange was 18 months when she and Claire came to stay at the center. She weighed just around 8 lbs at the time. A few weeks before this photo was taken she had been admitted to Children of the Promise (an inpatient care center for infants). They began caring for her when her life was on the line but when our doors were open they sent baby and mom our way. We're so thankful that she survived and that she responded to medication, therapeutic food, and the love and affection of her mom. She's a miracle, the first of many that we've been able to witness since then.
This picture was taken a few weeks ago. Marie Ange is now 3 years old and she has a baby sister. We may take a ton of photos at Second Mile to document a mom's journey through the program but this here is the most important photo. This is the one that really matters. This 18 months later- at home- eating something yummy- sitting next to her sister photo. This is what we work for.
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