A Few of My Favorite Moments, Part 1

Meeting Chantal.

I really love this mother. 

We were expecting her, although in true “this is Haiti” fashion had no idea when she would show. I had asked that the hospitals to go ahead and give us a call at the time of the referral so that we could make arrangements for transportation. But when this particular nurse called, Chantal and her baby had already left the clinic. 

So we waited... pretty skeptical that they would even show at all. Then, also in true “this is Haiti” fashion Chantal shows up in the wrong village at the wrong place. But they were kind enough to call my number which was on her reference form and since our Director lives in that village he was able to swing over and drive her out to our site. It was evening already, but Jenn and I headed back out to the land to meet her. 

Chantal’s baby is not actually her baby. Well, it is now. But it wasn’t always. Let me explain. Chantal’s friend and neighbor, and the mother of this child, died five months ago. Allow yourself to call to mind one of the top killers in the developing world and you will at once land upon her cause of death. Chantal jumped in as the baby’s caregiver. The child was four month’s old, sick, and in need of milk. At the time, the nearest clinic possessed a small stash of infant formula. Chantal was taking the child to the clinic to receive infant formula every week. And the baby was doing well. But the baby's father stopped coming around and then the clinic’s stash of formula ran dry. Then the baby had some diarrhea. And he we are, in the present, and our little friend is 9 month’s old and weighs 9.6 lbs.  

Why do I love Chantal? Because she didn’t once stop smiling. Not once, as she matter-of-factly shared the details of her life, did she stop smiling. She is 20 years old.... She is 6 months pregnant... and on and on the details of her life unfold. She has a very apparent visual disability which I thought she might allude to as she shared of her troubles. But she never mentioned it.  In no way was she complaining about her plight. Though she hadn’t eaten today... Though she had sacrificed her own small soda selling business to pay off her mother’s bank loan... She didn't complain; She didn’t stop smiling; And she didn’t ask for help. We talked about the possibility of her coming back to Second Mile Haiti the following morning since it was late and she didn’t have any of her belongings with her. Chantal wasn't sure that a morning rendezvous would necessarily work out so well. Her reason, she had to wash clothes (by hand of course) for all the people living in her home. Aside from her mother she was the oldest and that was her responsibility. Since she had been at the clinic with the baby that week. There must have been a considerable pile accumulating.

The more questions I asked the more I wanted to know this sweet girl. Something about her was intriguing! Then out of her mouth came the line of all lines: “I’ve started with this child. I don’t see any reason not to finish.” That was a bit of a raw translation but frankly, she wasn’t asking for a way out of taking care of this baby, sick though he was. She did however have some doubts that her mother would agree to her spending the night at our facility. 

Although it seemed she wanted to take advantage of this opportunity for her and the 9 month old, Chantal, being 20, is ultimately at the mercy of her mother. And if the final decision doesn't lie with her mother, than it is the father of the baby she is carrying who will have the final say. Kerline spoke with the mom on the telephone and even visited the family at home. Chantal’s mother has warmed up to the idea but still, Chantal must wait until the father of the baby she is carrying to come back around so she can broach the subject with him. 

This might not sound like a positive story. Even so, meeting Chantal was the highlight of my week. 

Helping a Dad see hope through a growth chart.

One of our mom and baby duos receives a daily visit from the baby’s papa. He’s adorable. He being the dad, not the baby. I mean the baby is adorable too....(that’s awkward). But the dad is something special. Today I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with him that I hope put his fleeting heart at ease. There had been a misunderstanding and he needed some clarification. The concern he was feeling for his son seemed all encompassing, but his son was doing well, so whatever was bothering him, I wanted to clear things up fast. 

He started out by saying “maybe... I just don’t understand all the terminology.” While we do say a lot of funny words that a parent wouldn’t normally hear unless, their child was being treated for malnutrition, terms and language weren’t the issue. The mom and the dad had both mistakenly remembered that baby’s weight had gone up to 4.7 kg. So when the mom tells the dad that little Kerly weighs only 4.1 kilos this morning, poor papa was sufficiently scared! He wanted an explanation and some peace of mind. Little Kerly had never weighed 4.7 kg, making today's weight a personal record.

It was the perfect teaching moment and a great opportunity to do what I love to do... to give the silver lining. Kerly is gaining weight at an acceptable rate. Not too fast, not too slow. I showed Papa a paper which graphs Kerly’s daily weights... he smiled when he noticed that today’s weight was in fact the most little Kerly had weighed, to date. He asked more questions. I explained how happy I am that Kerly weighs 4.16 kilograms today. I tried to give him some perspective. “Since he weighed just 4.08 kg yesterday, I would have even been happy if he weighed just 4.09 kilograms today”... He smiles and nods. “I wouldn’t be so happy if weighed in at 4.07 kg though,” I added that last bit, just to be clear that gains make us happy and that losses prompt us to become problem solvers, and do things different. I emphasize that Kerly is progressing well, that we should be happy. Dad gets it and keeps smiling. He’s interested in knowing how much Kerly needs to weigh to be at a normal weight for his age. We crack open the vaccination card that has Haiti’s growth chart conveniently printed on the inside. Kerly is six months old. An average weight for his age is all the way at 6.5 kg but we don’t jump that far... I show him the point on the chart that says 4.5 kg. “In a week,” I say, “it’s possible for Kerly to weigh 4.5 kg.” This weight sits right on the bottom edge of the growth chart's colored pathways. It toes the line. Entering the path means Kerly would graduate to a state of moderate malnutrition. I point to it again. “Look,” I say, “getting there is not so, so great yet, but it's progress! It’s like Kerly would have one foot in one foot out.” 

 “Okay, okay, okay” he says, laughing and nodding. He totally gets it. We started talking about goals for when Kerly is 7 months old which means we must be feeling more hopeful by now. 

It's not everyday you talk to a papa who cares so much about each and every gram of weight gain. It was a privilege and pleasure to talk to this one.