We love to celebrate new beginnings. Like when a child with severe acute malnutrition beats the odds. Or when a mother finds her footing in a time of doubt and uncertainty. And especially when a family emerges stronger, happier, healthier. Last Friday we had ample opportunity to celebrate these very milestones when three (yes three!) women finished up their final day at Second Mile.
While each of these women gained something different from their time at Second Mile, ultimately their reason for entering the center was the same: they each had children who were acutely unwell and without adequate resources, the situation was only getting worse.
Abigaelle was 5.2 lbs and 5 months old when she arrived with her aunt in Mid-October.
We were told that Abigaelle’s mom was handicapped but that, despite her handicap, she was a “person that doesn’t sit." Meaning, she had her own affairs to attend to during the day and didn’t typically stay home with her two children. That left Cherline, Abigaelle’s aunt, to look after her sister’s children and her own 3-year-old son. Cherline would sell gas when she could, making about $2 a week. But, she confessed, it had been some time since she’d made any money at all. To put further financial strain on this already vulnerable family, Abigaelle had required hospitalization twice in her short life, once for 1 month, and again for 22 days. The family sold items from their home in order to pay for these hospitalizations. Cherline was trying her best to care for Abigaelle, but she didn’t have much to work with.
It took awhile for staff to really connect with Cherline. She was painfully shy and lacked confidence. She didn’t contribute voluntarily during any of the class discussions and when called upon she would look at her feet with nothing to say. It was hard to tell if she was capturing the tips and tools being thrown her way. But she was a hard worker. She was diligent with the chores assigned to her each week and as part of a work-for-rent opportunity we offer to women don't have a reliable home to return to, she washed the cooking pots after every meal. Sometimes we wished she would move with a greater sense of urgency to fix a bottle when Abigaelle would cry out in hunger. Sometimes we wished she was just a tad more concerned with hygiene, especially when it came to sanitizing Abigaelle’s bottle. But the staff didn’t give up. Kerline and Pristina continued to guide and encourage her. And time had it’s way with Cherline.
Time also had it's way with Abigaelle.
The road from photo A to photo B wasn't short, and it wasn't easy. It took 15 weeks for Abigaelle to reach a healthy weight for her stature.
During their first 7 weeks she made quiet and steady progress. Although most children are sitting and reaching at 5 months, without breastmilk or an appropriate substitute, Abigaelle's growth and development remained severely stunted. To conserve energy she kept her matchstick extremities contracted against her body. But after receiving sufficient nutrition, fed to her first in the form of infant formula and then via Plumpy 'Nut, she slowly began to unfurl her tiny limbs.
During week #8, she caught an respiratory infection that her immune system couldn't fight. And once again Abigaelle required hospitalization, for the third time in 7 months of life. Cherline sent her son home to be cared for by a cousin and proceeded to spend night and day, for the next two weeks, dutifully seated in a plastic chair next to Abigaelle's hospital bed.
The next 5 weeks of Abigaelle's recovery were transformational. There were more smiles. Then were sweet babbles and curious coos, the likes of which you'd expect to hear from a newborn discovering newborn toes. She started kicking her legs and playing with her hands. And then Cherline began to "make Abigaelle sit" which, many a Haitian mother will have you know, is perhaps the most critical responsibility of motherhood during a child's first year of life. Seriously. Sitting is a big deal around here.
On their last day at the center, we managed to pry a few smiles out of both Abigaelle and her aunt, especially right after Kerline, the health educator, showed the 3 program graduates their post-education final exam scores.
The health education post-test is an oral exam given just before a caregiver leaves Second Mile. We want to know whether the education component of our model has been effective and most importantly we want to be sure that the mothers are equipped with a practical understanding of how to keep themselves and their children healthy and well. It's a pretty big deal. Caregivers know they must score an 80% in order to "pass" and they take that mandate pretty seriously.
Cherline scored an impressive 82% up 38% from the pre-test she took upon entering the program. To be honest, I don't think our nurse or our educator thought she would do quite that well. But Cherline gained confidence over the course of her time at Second Mile and by the end of it she was able to answer those questions.
If you ask me, I think that at some point during her 15 weeks with us, Cherline came to understand that she was making a difference in the life of a child she'd come to love and cherish. And that, friends, might have had the most empowering effect of all. Abigaelle survived. She even even gained [more than] 5 lbs. And it wasn’t due to anyone’s efforts but her own.
Cherline is a hero and we're so happy to see her feeling more empowered.