To say that November has been a rough month would be an understatement. You know what? Let's through in October too. It's been two rough months, one right after the other. I'm guessing that many of you have heard about the insane amount rain we received here in Northern Haiti. Some have estimated close to 55 inches have fallen in just 3 weeks! It’s been crazy. And coming right after Hurricane Matthew, it feels like Haiti can’t catch a break.
The flooded streets are reminder that homes have been destroyed and livelihoods lost. It's hard to "see the positive" when everything is such a mess. It's hard to feel hopeful knowing that the rain have made already difficult situations far worse and that cases of Cholera will surely skyrocket.
Let’s just say it's been a hard, dark (literally), and gloomy month. But... even when the skies are gray, we try to keep things positive. If there are two sides to a story, Second Mile likes to show the one that’s most likely to leave you feeling hopeful.
And this month, the start of our community program left me feeling hopeful.
For the past 18 months, we have been obsessed with developing a community program that would benefit both men and women. Yeah, you heard me, men and women.
I felt that this was the one thing we were missing from having a complete and truly holistic model. But we couldn’t just start a program without working out all the kinks.
First, we needed a professor to lead this up. We needed someone who would be able to energize 70-year-old men and get them excited about breastfeeding. We needed someone would could make "family planning" an engaging topic.
Well we found him. I’d like you to meet Mr. Louino St. Germain.
Thank goodness for the UN grant, which we wrapped up last April, because it required we hire a psychologist for the recovery program. Louino was recommended for the position by the best of the best. Right away, we were obsessed with him. At times, I even felt like I was the one who had to impress Louino and not the other way around. Right away, he made it his mission to create all sorts of forms. Forms for evaluations… forms for referrals… you name it. Let’s just say he had Amy’s heart from the start. We were not sure how the moms would respond to a male in an educator role and and as a personal confidant, but he passed through every challenge with flying colors. And did I mention, he loves kids? He spends at least an hour each day just playing with kids. If I was home in Texas, this is precisely the type of golden scenario where we would say: "winner winner, chicken dinner.” Texans, amiright?
Louino fit right in. It only took a few weeks for everyone to simply forget that Louino hadn’t been with us since the beginning or that he wasn’t even a full time member of the staff. Second Mile was home. And after the grant was over Louino did join us full-time, taking on an educator role. He now leads daily health education classes for the moms. That’s on top of being a psychologist and a baby whisperer. He really does have many talents.
But about the community program...
Several months ago I approached Louino with the idea.
I couldn’t shake my desire to start a program for men and women. It just makes sense. Women’s issues aren’t just women’s issues. And children’s health is certainly not just a woman’s responsibility. The topics we teach at Second Mile Haiti need to reach entire families.
Back in June and July of last year, as a component of our UN grant, we did a community outreach program where we went door to door educating families and hosting weekly focus groups back at our site. It gave us a glimpse into what it might look to work more closely with community members. It helped us see that many people right outside our gates were eager for information.
It also showed me that to truly make a lasting impact, we needed more time with people. We couldn’t just talk to people for a few minutes a week, for a few weeks a year. If we wanted to see results, we would have to really get in there. Build relationships… Take time… Come alongside… Sound familiar?
For the new program, we decided to find one male and one female in each household. The didn’t have to be parents. They didn’t even need to be husband and wife. We would take any male and female duo as long as they lived under the same room. Sister, brother. Mother, son. Cousins. Friends.
We decided on a 6 week program. The couples would come from Monday-Friday for 2 hours each day. We set some ground rules. Each person could only miss 2 sessions! But if both participants managed to complete the program, they would receive two goats and a certificate of completion.
Education Booklet: Check (Amy created a Creole education book back in February. It's pretty remarkable.)
Enough goats for the first group of participants: Check!
Now we had to find the students...
Of course we hoped the program would work out exactly how we envisioned it. But there are always obstacles to overcome.
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get people to agree to a time commitment of two hours a day for 6 weeks. We knew that people might have legitimate reasons why they couldn’t make this work, or that something like farming season might affect participation.
But, we had to start somewhere.
Did you know the average household size in rural Haiti is estimated to be 8-10 people?
All we needed was 2.
Louino set out to find houses in the area that would nominate these couples.
Many people said no, at first. Some complained that the class would interfere with dinner preparation. Others told us they wouldn’t have time to bring the cows home.
But Louino had an answer for every sceanerio. That's what I like about him.
We don't take no for an answer.
Soon it was time for our first meeting. It was time to sit down with the group of prospective participants and tell them how this thing was going to work. Let's just say I was very anxious leading up to this meeting. This is a unique program. There isn’t another one like it around and I was starting to see why. Still, I wanted it to be a success.
The group was was supposed to arrive at 12 PM. Our goal was to have each person complete a program pre-test (to see who knew what about the topics that we would cover) and to answer any questions they might have about logistics. Well, people didn’t begin to arrive until 1 PM. I wasn’t surprised. Most events in Haiti tend to run a bit, um, off-schedule.
But, at Second Mile, that doesn’t fly. We believe our program works so well because we are “logistically savvy.” By that I mean: We don’t waste time, money, or resources. We act smart and with reason. These are values I really try to impress upon the staff and they’ve become values of the organization as a whole.
I didn’t even have to step in. Louino knew exactly what to say.
He started by asking “Does anyone here care about education?”
“Has anyone here ever had the chance to attend an education class like this?”
Half the group says No.
“Does anyone here think they will ever have an opportunity like this again?
The other half responds this time. No.
“Has anyone ever spent 10 hours a week on you?”
Boom. He was hitting it hard, but everyone let that soak in, and then they quietly said no.
"I know the sacrifices you will need to make to attend these classes are great, but the reward is even greater."
At this point I’m just watching, trying to hold back the tears.
We were in a classroom full of adults of differing levels of education. But something told me that few, if any, had ever met someone like Louino, someone who cared about them from the moment he met them.
The meeting went well. We recruited other staff members from around Second Mile to help some of the participants fill out there pre-tests. Only 10 of the 25 participants were able to read the questions and write responses without assistance. As I looked around the classroom, seeing my employees help with this task I felt really thankful for my “village.”
As always, Louino had me say something to the group. I started by thanking everyone for coming. I apologized that I hadn’t been able to start the program earlier, but told them that it wouldn't have worked if we started it earlier. This was their time. I told them why I thought that men and women should learn about these topics together— to elevate the household as a whole. I told them that I think they will become teachers and leaders, that this program would give them the skills. I always know when God is present, because in those times I feel like I have just the right words at just the right time. This was one of those times.
The group was fired up! They were ready to start.
And then I was like ah, oops, one more thing... You have to be okay if I take your picture. Louino jumps in: “Yes, we need to take your picture. We need the whole world to see what's going on here.”
Whew, yes, thanks Louino.. We hadn’t talked about this before but he couldn't have said it better.
The program started a week later. I wasn’t able to attend the first three classes because of the flooding. Even though I wasn’t able to get to the site, Louino made sure the show went on.
The group walked in 2 feet of water to attend the meetings.
I made it to the fourth meeting. Once again, I should have brought kleenexes. Every single person was engaged. Everyone was answering responding to questions. People were writing in their notebooks and following along in the booklets.
I mean check this picture out. This says a thousand words.
Once again, I was asked to say something to group.
I asked them how the program was going?
I heard nothing but positive responses.
And then someone shouted, “My kids love the education booklet. I've been reading it to them at night!”
And that may have been the best feedback I've ever received.
Then I told the group I would like to take some pictures of each household pair.
I'm going to leave you with these. Right here.
Do you see the love? The years? The experience?
These are husband and wives, cousins, brothers and sisters, moms and sons, dads and daughters, and randoms that just happen to share a house together.
I don't know how this makes you feel right now, but I feel proud and empowered.
I'm excited to have the opportunity to watch this group as it flourishes over the next couple years. Maybe, I will see future mayors. Maybe some community leaders, or maybe someone from this group will take action to prevent their families from experiencing malnutrition. Maybe a 70 year-old grandpa passes along information about family planning keeps a young family out of poverty. Who knows?
I am thankful we are around for this though, and that you are here too.
If you haven’t seen our Holiday Catalog yet, be sure to check it out. Now that you know about this program, perhaps you will be inspired to donate a few education booklets ($5/each), or give so that an entire cohort (30 people) can complete the program ($400).
You should really give it a second look, because there's no stopping this program now.