family preservation

about School

Now that we've been living in Haiti for 4+ years it's safe to say that we're total experts, right? 

Ha! Hardly! 

Still, there are a few "cultural nuggets" we've gleaned through time spent with this beloved country and her people. One of my earliest lessons came after 6 months of living in Haiti--September, 2010.

Then I was the nurse at an infant care center.  

How's this for a throwback?

By that 6-month mark I had started to build relationships with many of the nannies. These were all women about my age and older who had been hired to take care of the children at the center. There were anywhere from 15 -25 women on staff each day. They worked 24-hour shifts and since I lived at the center and was on-call 24/7...well...we got to know each other pretty well. By this time I knew all of their names and was starting to learn more about their lives, like whether or not they were married and how many children they had.

September hit and suddenly the nannies had all kinds of ailments. I was used to the occassional complaints, PMS and the like but this was different. High blood pressure, headaches, colds, body aches, fatigue. It was uncanny. Why the sudden onslaught of symptoms in this group of generally healthy women?

I was at a loss until one woman was nice enough to spell it out for me. 

M panse twop, she said. Which means, I've been thinking too much.

What's bothering you? I ask. > Oh, it's just that time of year. 

And what time of year is that, exactly?  > Sezon lekol. 

School season???? That was her answer!? That was her explanation for this staff-wide immune system breakdown?! 

That's when I got the whole scoop and it made sense. I learned that school would be reopening the first week in October. Registration fees were due along with the first of three tuition installments. Books had to be purchased and we're not talking just a few workbooks and readers. These lists had 10, 12, even 15 different titles per grade. And each child needed a backpack. In some cases backpacks could be shared between students, such as if a family had more than one child in the same grade. It happens more often than you would expect since one-on-one classroom instruction is limited or so I learned. I later learned that moms and dads who have not had any formal education themselves, cannot afford tutors for their children when they fall behind.  I learned that there are few things more defeating for a parent living in poverty than having to pay the school fees for a single grade more than one year in a row.

There were also uniforms to be made. And you had to hurry if you wanted to get a good deal on fabric and tailoring. Prices would skyrocket as the summer days dwindled.

In 2010 the official start date of the new school year would be announced by the president via national radio. It was a complicated year to say the least. Still, a parent concerned about making ends meet knew the general date, give or take a month, and as the countdown towards the first day of school drew nearer financial anxieties increased five-fold. It was palpable. The nannies were mothers. They had to factor in these extra costs that, although somewhat expected (since school season happens every year), aren't a part of meeting their families day-to-day needs for food and shelter. The monthly salaries they earn had long been spent on food and family emergencies. Now their thoughts were consumed with how to make hundreds of dollars appear out of nowhere-- and it was keeping them up at night. School season was stressful, and it was making these women sick.  

It was a rude awakening for me. The whole school thing. Getting to see what women went through in order to get their children in to school and what they continued to go through day after day to keep them there gave me my first guttural glimpse into motherhood in Haiti. There's something other than just the "joy" of motherhood. What is it? Ah yes, hardship. 

Jenn had a similar experience. She learned about the school system that same year when she took on a roll to help run a school sponsorship program. In following up with the children currently enrolled in sponsorship, Jenn learned about the myriad ways a child could fail a grade thus having to repeat the class again the following year. 

The child could be hungry. Without food the child's mental alertness would be lacking, leading to poor scores. 

He or she could arrive at school with a dirty uniform one too many times. Cleanliness and overall presentation if highly valued in Haiti and children who do not meet the dress code requirements are sent home. For families living in extreme poverty the cost of soap for a daily wash might be too much. 

The child could be sick. The child could miss too many days of school or worse, he or she could be sick on one critical day. Exam day. To not be present on exam day disqualifies you from passing the grade in many schools. End of story. 

Jenn remembers making multiple visits to the home of a struggling family who had multiple children sick with malaria in the final weeks of school. That one illness almost cost 3 children an entire year of school. 

You probably get the point. If the parents with jobs can't afford tuition and the parents whose children are going to school for free can't afford the right nutrition and medical care needed to keep them there--than how in the world can children complete 15 years pre-collegiate education in Haiti. It certainly isn't simple. Public schools are few and far between.  Free-school lunch is not a mandate.

Still, putting one's children through school is one of the most dignified acts of parenthood and something every parent in Haiti wants for there child. 

(Alright, now it's Jenn's turn to write).

Ok It's me, Jenn now. 

You may have seen some of the statuses I posted on Facebook this week. We've been talking about school sponsorship and sharing some photos of our employees kids; the children are dressed in their school uniforms and sitting next to their proud parents. All these photos were taken last year at a “back to school breakfast” we held right after our employees got their bonuses and promptly enrolled all their children in school. The photos were taken by the lovely and talented Elektra Carras.

Last year, I was suddenly an employer and as an organization we had a chance to make this time a little bit easier on our staff. 17 of our 20 employees have school aged children- and combined these 17 people have 51 children! Last year, in order to increase the likelihood that our beloved employees would be able to manage all of the costs associated with putting anywhere from 3 - 8 children into school, we gave them their annual bonus (equivalent to a month’s salary) in September instead of December. Everyone agreed to this plan, wholeheartedly, but our Director wanted to see if the funds were in fact used for school so he asked to see receipts. And as was expected everyone returned with receipts from various schools. Kids had been enrolled. Tuition and uniforms fees paid etc. 

Over this past year I was able to assess how the first year of giving away school bonuses played out. Not only did the employees remain healthy and in good spirits during “school season,” but throughout the year hardly anyone was sick or asked for a day off work. I have actually have to force these employees to take vacation! Very rarely did anyone ask to take a pay advance and never did anyone need to borrow money for anything school-related. That makes my job a lot easier! 

Last year, not a single one of these students dropped out of school mid-way through the year. And, big news people, there wasn't a single child that didn't graduate and move on to the next grade level!!!! These children have moms and dads who because of their employment can focus on putting food on the table every night and can make sure to purchase meds when needed or take the children to the hospital and pay for medical bills. No child missed school because of a "payment that has not been made to the school” or the lack of funds to purchase books or uniforms. 

These kids have moms and/or dads that have all the means to make sure these kids don't miss school and that they are succeeding—learning to read and write even if they themselves never had that chance. This is why we are passionate. We can't wait for the day when all 51 kids of these kids have completed university. We can't until the day when there are doctors, nurses, vets, investors, engineers, and store owners coming from this AREA!

Look at this potential!! 

Joseph's kids

Joseph's kids

These kids are the future of Haiti and they are being raised up by some amazing parents. 

As you may be aware it’s much easier to raise funds at the end of the year rather than right now. Shelling out double the payroll plus some isn’t easy to do at this particular month. But God Bless You people! We are so thankful that you value this push for education as much as we  do. This year, because of your GENEROUS donations, it looks like we are on target to be able to give a secondary school stipend to many of our employees, especially those that have children in high school, and the employees that large families. 

5 of Joslin's 8 children! 

5 of Joslin's 8 children! 

Magoul's five children! 

Magoul's five children! 

Jiji with her two children! 

Jiji with her two children! 

Second Mile is located 15 miles outside the city. We are in the “country” surrounded by 5 different villages. In the nearest village there are 3 schools. Two of the schools are primary and the other is a secondary school that goes all the way up to 9th grade. If you want to attend "high school" you have to travel outside of the village and make your way to the city. This is costly for people who live in this area. There isn’t direct access to public transportation which means motos must be hired to take the kids to and from town each day. That expense can be huge-at least $2/day! Not many are able to afford to pay tuition  and be able to account for daily transportation to attend school.  

It's a rare thing for children who live in the village to stay in school through high school. We are hoping that it becomes less rare as the tide in Haiti is certainly changing for the better. We currently have 16 employee's children who are attending school outside the village-- hence the reason why it's important that parents don't have to go into debt before school even starts.

In case this post hasn't been encouraging enough. Here is one more bit of encouragement. 

I always like to talk to Ama about school. His nickname in Creole is “the professor.” He is our oldest employee. And did you know he was actually mayor of all the surrounding villages at one time? We enjoy what he brings to the table as a member of our staff. 

Yesterday Ama told me with pride that this year will be one of his daughter's last year of school. He said that next year she will be heading to University (the first of his 11 children) and that she wants to be a doctor. I said, “wow, so out of all the employee's kids you have very first one that will attend University!” And he just smiled REALLY big. During this talk Ama and I also made a deal that he would be in charge of making sure that none of the staff kids fall behind. If any of the staff children need tutoring this year Ama has volunteered his services because he knows how important it is that a child stay in school. 

Ama teaches daily literacy classes to our moms and a twice weekly literacy class to adults in the village.

Ama teaches daily literacy classes to our moms and a twice weekly literacy class to adults in the village.

So that's what we have to say about school.

If you'd like to contribute. Wonderful! We are still fundraising for this need. We're budgeting $150 per employee child to make sure that all back-to-school needs are met. We have 29 sponsorships of $150 accounted for already. Only 22 more to go! We will be gathering with all the parents and kids again this year. This time for a back-to-school dinner. If last year was any indication of what's to come, we are expecting great things for this generation of Haitian students! 

You can Donate here. 

 
 

Thank you on behalf of all of us! 

 

happy day!

On Tuesday, after spending seven weeks at Second Mile, Daniel and Miselene went home!

This post is about what his transformation looked like, how it happened, and well mostly what it was like to provide a mom with a few basic tools and watch how she used them to care for her kiddo. 

This mom was a favorite. Let’s put aside the fact that I probably shouldn’t be admitting that and just agree to tell it how it is. ;) We all enjoyed her. In fact, she probably stayed longer than she and her baby truly

needed

to simply because she was so great to have around. 

Miselene was extremely attentive in 

every 

class. I don’t know how she did it. She followed all the guidelines and didn’t complain. In fact, Miselene was the reason we started assigning a weekly chore to each mother... not that she needed to do more, but because she was doing 

so

much and the others needed to share the load. 

She was eager and smart. Pleasant. Kind. Sweet and respectful. And there wasn’t the slightest bit of doubt that she cared about the well-being of both of her children. This must be true of all mothers- deep down- it’s just that not all moms manifest their concern in the same ways. Some moms are simply so beat down that the emotions and reactions you would expect to see aren’t the ones that surface. 

That’s probably why I enjoyed Miselene so much. Her emotions were so honest. I could tell when she wasn’t feeling good and when she was feeling confident. She felt genuine joy in the growth and improvement of her baby. When he wasn’t doing so well you could see how much it pained her. She talked to him, kissed him, loved on him. Because of his age, Daniel was drinking infant formula. We weren’t giving him Mamba. We weren’t giving him enriched cow’s milk. Simply formula. He responded very well and gained weight rapidly. He cried whenever he was hungry and his mom promptly made him a bottle. Miselene was extremely cautious about hygiene. She washed her hands. She made sure the bottle was clean. And Daniel was never sick with diarrhea or vomiting. We never doubted that he would gain weight at a steady, constant rate yet Miselene was excited every, single, day when he did.

She had this way of saying, “ohhhhh Daniellllll” surprised, yet not really surprised, the way you would continue to praise a toilet training toddler each and every time he did his business in the right place. She really was so happy to see Daniel improve even the slightest bit. She bonded with him over each and every bottle. And she kept track of every single ounce. 

Daily weights plotted by the nurse and a record of Daniel's milk intake written by Mom

Honestly, Daniel was a really easy case. We didn’t have to do much for him yet for this family that little bit made all the difference in the world. 

Daniel's shelf: meds, formula, treated water, and Mom's lunch bowl

Daniel was referred by Children of the Promise. His mom went to COTP because she heard that her baby could be helped there. She went to their gate and asked that Daniel be taken into their creche. When they told her he’d be better of with his mother, she got desperate, asking if their was another orphanage she could take him to. 

She felt she had reached the end of her capacity to care for him. She wanted help. Mostly she just wanted him to survive. COTP thought that Daniel and Miselene would do well at Second Mile. 

When they arrived Daniel weighed 3 kg. 6.6 lbs. He was exactly 3 months old. Maybe you're thinking...

my kid weighed more than that when he was born!

Yes.. 6.6 lbs is tiny for a 3 month old. Daniel had been drinking tea and drinking formula when his mother could procure it. 

6.6 lbs - Day 1 

Daniel’s mom had not been breast feeding. She said she didn’t have milk. And after assessment of her own nutritional status it wasn’t hard to see that that was likely the truth. Her health was part of the problem. At the time when Daniel and Miselene came to Second Mile, she had been battling a cough for many weeks. Her body looked worn. She seemed weak and tired and hadn’t yet gotten to the bottom of her symptoms. 

She had gone to a clinic relatively near her home and was seen by a doctor who wanted to rule out Tuberculosis by doing a sputum test. The test was free and if in fact she had Tuberculosis the medication would be free as well. But it was the cost of transportation to the clinic (and the fact that her son was also not well) that kept her from following through. For the sputum test, she had to bring a series of three samples on three separate days. Meaning, that she had to assemble enough money to travel not once, not twice, but three days in a row. 

When we met her she had submitted 2 of the 3 samples. We arranged for Miselene to finish the testing and then arranged for her to go again, her fifth visit to the clinic, for the results. The test concluded that she did

not

have tuberculosis. I was so relieved! But why did she still seem so disheartened? 

Aw, yes, a negative test result meant she

still

didn’t have answers and answers cost money. When they told her she didn’t have TB they also told her she should return to the clinic the next day so that she could be seen by the doctor. The doctor would likely prescribe more tests or if she was lucky, just write her a prescription to treat her symptoms. Only those tests and those medications would not be free. 

In Mislene's mind, a sixth visit was out of the question.

Thankfully, after a few days of rest and a few high-energy meals, and some OTC cough syrup Miselene did begin to feel  better. 

By the second week it was much easier to look at Daniel.. he wasn’t the fragile little skeleton he had been on the first day.   By week four he was actually filling up the scale. 

By their 5th week at Second Mile Daniel had gained 4 lbs and had earned himself the nickname, “ti bout patat.” 

Little sweet potato. 

He was doing well enough to go home. He was no longer severely malnourished and had even reached the growth chart median for a child of his length. Very impressive, indeed! But on the day we began preparing his mom to go home, Daniel developed respiratory distress. Instead of sending him home we gave him a breathing treatment and sent him to the hospital to be seen. 

The doctor prescribed nasal drops, vitamin C, and an antibiotic. The total cost of the consultation, the laboratory tests, and the medication was $12.24. Totally affordable, right? Yet $12.24 would have been an inhibitory sum for this mom. 

She came back from the clinic smiling, not because it wasn’t an exhausting day (she was at the hospital from 7 am - 3 pm), but because she had something tangible she could do for her son. She had both answers and a solution. 

Daniel stayed the following week so that we could monitor him as he recovered from his respiratory infection. Again, at the end of the week we were ready to send him home but  coincidently Miselene was under the weather. She had a fever with body aches and a headache and well the thought of packing everything up and leaving made her cry. They stayed another week. Miselene worked just as hard and was just as attentive in all the classes as if it were her first week, not her 7th. But after that, we simply didn’t have any reason to keep them any longer (although we did try to think of something). 

Miselene had been a part of all the business training classes and was ready to tackle the obstacles she would face doing “

komes

.” She was ready to take on the challenge of maintaining a small operation of her own. As her first attempt to achieve positive cash flow she would be selling clothes. Errod had already been to town to pick up a bale (literally) of used closed. Clothes vendors, as Miselene would aspire to be, typically buy these bundles of thrift-store surplus straight from shipping containers that have travelled from the United States to Haiti. They make their profit by selling each article of clothing, individually. You never know what you’re going to get in a bale, except that if you buy a bale of kid’s clothes, as Miselene’s requested, you

should

theoretically get kid’s clothes. 

Miselene was also a star pupil in health education. She asked questions. Paid attention. And when all was said and done she scored 100% on her health post test. Most of the health education sessions had been taught by Ms. Kerline but this week she's been at a training seminar, learning how to perform infant massage. 

In her place, Ms. Prestina, our nurse and the newest member of our team, gave Miselene her parting exam. The exam is done orally. Kerline, or in this case Prestina, asks the questions and writes the mother’s response. There are about 20 questions such as What causes malnutrition?, What is a balanced diet and can you give examples from each of the three food groups?, What can be done to prevent your child from getting diarrhea?, What are the benefits of pre-natal visits when you are pregnant? etc. etc. When I saw Prestina immediately after she gave Miselene her test, she was practically speechless. She managed to squeak out some accolade in fancy french. A simple "she did a great job" just wasn’t adequate.

Magnifique. 

Most of the moms score between 20% - 60% on similar test given on their first or second day at Second Mile, before they complete any of the health education sessions.  Miselene scored a 59%. 

And after? 100%... We’ve never had another mom do quite so well. I felt like dancing inside. I told every person in my path and made a Facebook status when I finally got internet last night. It was 10 pm.. but the world needed to know! 

We grow to love these women and want so badly for them to do well. When something, anything, aligns in their favor it seems like an impossibly positive step forward. The likes of which, can happen so rarely for these women. 

Miselen, back center, and her daughter (3 years old)

On Tuesday Morning we did one final assessment to get Daniel's measurements recorded in his chart and to determine a good goal weight for his first follow-up visit (next week). Then we performed one last test. 

With a quick finger prick and a tiny drop of blood we can tell whether or not a child is anemic and the severity of it. Anemia and malnutrition march hand-in-hand wrecking havoc in little bodies, but some children are worse off than others. The hemoglobinnometer we funded through the Holiday Catalog is an amazing little machine that works in much the same way as those pocket-sized glucose monitors people use to check their blood sugar. On Day 1 Daniel’s hemoglobin level was so low it wouldn’t even register on the machine. After 7 weeks of infant formula and liquid supplemental iron, his hemoglobin had improved to a 9. Still low, but  on the rise. 

arm circumference indicates the severity of malnutrition

length lets us know where he falls on the growth chart and how much he has grown

"ti bout patat"

So what does this "recovery and empowerment" process come down to, exactly?  Each family's situation is of course unique to them. But the underlying issues are similar. Miselene and Daniel's story isn't all that unlike the rest. Lack of resources, limited economic opportunities, the inability to access healthcare, and competing demands for what little money the family may have... These things can tear families up and ultimately lead to more funerals than birthday parties. It's not quick and it's not easy but we'd like to think that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn't take that

much [money] to keep a family together and to nudge a child in the right direction, that is, the one of more birthdays. Here's what it looked like in terms of time and resources spent directly on this family.

Total days at Second Mile: 41 (not including weekends spent at home)

Total weight gained: 5.4 

lb

Total length gained: 6 cm

Total infant formula consumed: 22 cans of formula (each 400 g)

Total cost of infant formula:  $127.90 (at $5.80 per can) 

Total cost of transportation to and from Second Mile for 7 weeks: $16.20

Total cost of vitamins and medications + 1 visit to the clinic for Daniel and 2 visits to the clinic for mom:  $33

Cost of business (start-up):  $150

Mom and baby together in time of crisis: Priceless

The "priceless" bit might have been a bit cheesy. Sorry about that. But I think you get my point. 

Which is: Thank you for supporting Second Mile because when you do 

you are helping mothers like Mislene, babies like Daniel,

 and their big sisters too.. 

if you too want to support this kind of thing financially, here's the link to our 

donation page