So you read the orphanage post and you’re curious about what we do. Maybe you made a donation for the first time recently, and you want to learn more. Or perhaps you’re one of our long time advocates, just stopping in for the latest update.
Whatever the case, this post is for you.
We've decided to let you in on a little secret [and we’re about to get real transparent here]. Are you ready? Helping a family keep and care for their kids isn’t expensive. It takes time, dedication and hard work, but it doesn’t require a whole lot of money, at least not in the grand scheme of things anyway (and definitely not compared to the costs associated with losing a child, long-term institutionalized care, or international options).
When we first got started in 2013, we took things slow, realizing the recovery of 13 malnourished children in those first few months. That number grew to 45 in 2014, 75 in 2015, and with our recent expansion, we expect more than 150 recoveries for the year 2016.
The cost to operate Second Mile Haiti for the benefit of these 150 breaks down to a cost of $1,600 per family. That $1,600 includes everything from the food they eat to chalk for the chalkboards, the salaries of our gardening staff, and even the additional costs we encounter when a mother or grandmother has a few extra little ones joining her at the center each week. $1,600 per family, per recovery. That’s it.
So what is ‘a recovery’ anyway? I could give you a detailed description of Our Model and walk you through the various facets that fall within each branch. But I won't. Instead I'll tell you a little story about a woman named Iphania and a baby named Myson.
Iphania arrived on a Monday, mid-December.
There are so many unknowns hanging in the air when a new family first arrives at the center.
Every child is different [in age, in pathology, in appetite, and energy.] The first question, always: will the child survive? Despite experience with more than 250 caregivers to-date, you just can't be sure how the next few days and weeks will go.
Face to face with someone we've only just met, we can't help but wonder: Will this caregiver stick it out? Will she complete the program? Will she be a breeze to work with or will she demand much patience from our skilled and compassionate staff? Will she be a leader or keep to herself?
Will we help her? Will the space serve her and bring her success? Will we do well by her?
The caregivers of course, are even more unique than the children sitting beside them or stretched across their laps. They differ in age, education level, place of residence, and relation to the child for whom they give care. But also, always, each woman brings with her a unique history: hardships (past and present), religion, the stresses she faces, her fears and the things that pain her all travel with her to the center. Some women can let those things go... some women bring laughter, ease, and optimism.
Iphania was one such woman.
Myson's mother died when he was 3 months old. At the time of her death, Myson went to live with his paternal grandmother. He didn't do well in those first few weeks. When things settled down after the funeral, Iphania (his maternal grandmother) decided to bring the baby to her house where he joined 8 cousins and a handful of aunts and uncles. Of the 14 people living under Iphania’s roof Myson was the youngest.
Now that Iphania was 60, it'd been more than 25 years since the last time she'd had an infant in her care. She tried to feed him, but he wouldn’t eat. It was a problem, she knew, but she didn’t have any idea what to do about it, nor did she have much to work with. She was embarrassed by the baby's appearance and the fact that he was so clearly in "bad shape." She'd taken him to the clinic and was up-to-date on his vaccines. Still he wouldn’t eat.
Even though there were so many other factors, like his mother’s death, and the period of time his other grandmother had been in charge she felt his obvious ill-health was a direct reflection on her as his caregiver. She was afraid of what people would think.
Iphania was referred to Second Mile by a former program graduate, a mother who was able to assuage the grandmother's fears and convince her that the staff of Second Mile Haiti would not judge her harshly.
When they arrived at Second Mile, 9 month old Myson weighed 3.8 kg (8.3 lbs).
We met Myson's immediate needs through medical and nutritional intervention. Under the supervision of our nursing staff, and with the miracles of Medika Mamba, medicine, and milk his body was transformed and his health restored.
Myson changed drastically in a matter of weeks. His grandmother was happy.
With new energy, Myson began to develop as babies do. He gained an interest in his hands and feet and he found his voice. Iphania became more and more enamored by "her child" with each passing day. She started calling him Ti My, an endearing nickname for one of Haiti's most common monikers. Myson. Her little one.
She found the recovery schedule manageable. Feed and care for Myson in the early morning. Clean around the recovery rooms. Take Myson to be weighed and check in with the nurses around 8 am. Attend classes in health and business from 9:30 - 12. Feed and care for Myson some more. Lunch. Participate in literacy class in the afternoons. Dinner. Feed and care for Myson again. Sleep. Repeat. Home on Fridays, back on Mondays.
A classy lady, with no time for nonsense or drama, she stuck to the plan: get Myson well and head home for good.
Upon discovering that not a single one of our nurses or educators would judge her for what she did not know, she was honest about her shortcomings and began to ask questions. They taught her what types of foods Myson needed and how to prepare them. And with each new piece of knowledge she'd say Mesi Mis Mwen. M pat konnen. Mesi Anpil. Thank you my nurse. I didn't know. Thank you so much.
Iphania's personality popped in education classes. Her humor and wit acted as a source of energy for the instructors. More often then not it was Iphania's bantor with theirs that was responsible for the chorus of laughter echoing from the education building. Her quips and jeers could send the younger women reeling. Laughter, her gift to them.
In 7 weeks, Myson achieved his goal weight: a number on the scale that declared him no longer severely, acutely malnourished.
He was round, his skin was clear, and he could now sit up by himself.
It was time for Iphania to take the exit exam. Kerline, our case manager, sat down with Iphania to put her health knowledge to the test and find out exactly what she'd gained during her time at the center. She nailed the 19 question test, scoring 51 out of 52 possible points resulting in a grade of 98%, a dramatic increase from her score of 25% on the same test her first week at the center.
She owned the topics: breastfeeding, malnutrition, prevention of disease, hygiene, women's health and nutrition. Ask Iphania and she can tell you what's up.
During the short interview we conduct immediately after the test, Iphania had a lot to say. We asked: How has the center helped you? Here's how she replied:
"The center helped me and my child. When I arrived with Myson, I was ashamed for people to see what he looked like when I took off his clothes. But now he looks great! He drank a ton of milk and he ate a ton of Medika Mamba at the center. When he was sick, they paid his hospital expenses. They gave us food, money for transportation, and a place to sleep. I want to tell everyone at the Center many, many, many Thank You's. Because of you, he got better."
Myson's hospital stay- something I've yet to mention- was a critical part of their journey. We view the time we spend with caregivers as a once in a lifetime opportunity to end the cycle of malnutrition for that family. We don't want the mom or baby to have to experience what they experienced, ever again. It's the reason we created a space for caregivers and children to do this recovery thing together, a place that's perfect for one-on-one instruction, group learning and peer support. Because each caregiver is so different, we take the time to get to know each woman and invest in her. We meet her right where she's at whether she has a secondary school education or no formal education whatsoever.
Ending the cycle is a lofty goal: it forces us to focus on skills like reading, writing, and gardening, building each caregiver's toolbox so that she can successfully manage the business we offer upon completion of the program. Education, yes. But also, income. Equipped with knowledge and the resources to nourish their children, educate them, and take them to the hospital when they are sick, caregivers themselves prevent malnutrition from robbing their children of bright and fruitful futures.
But this whole prevention-thing actually starts much earlier, while we are still meeting the immediate needs of the child. We believe it's important to rule out any underlying health conditions which may have been responsible for, or at least a contributing factor in the child's presentation of malnutrition.
Just days before they were set to graduate, the nurses noticed a troubling sign in their assessment of Myson. Though he looked well, his weight was fine, and he could eat and drink without incident, he had symptoms of respiratory distress. The next morning Myson was sent to the hospital for a consultation. It would conclude that Myson, like 25% of the children we assist, would require hospitalization.
For two weeks we supported Iphania during her hospital stay. All expenses were covered. We assisted with money for food and helped get medications that weren't available in the hospitals pharmacy. The pediatricians at Hopital Sacre Croeur Milot are some the best of the best. They diagnosed a small hole in Myson's heart--which would help explain his early feeding and weight issues.
After the hospitalization, Iphania returned to Second Mile for two final weeks of recovery. The news of Myson's heart condition was a shock, she admitted. Her heart hurt for his, she said. But the way she handles life, with humor and nonchalance, plus her sensibility and compassion made her the perfect match for this. She could be strong for him.
Knowledge is power, after all. Our Second Mile nurses helped her understand his diagnosis more fully and showed her how to administer his new heart mediations. She now goes to his appointments at the hospital with confidence.
Iphania and Myson have been to more than 10 visits to the center since they graduated in early May. After their second visit, Iphania qualified to receive her business package. Myson had to weigh just a little bit more than he did when he went home as proof that Iphania was doing her part to keep him healthy. She passed that test with flying colors and she is now a proud business owner.
She still has 14 people living under her roof and she is the only one with any form of income.
The follow-up visits will continue indefinitely. Maintaining the relationship with caregivers like Iphania and keeping an open line of support is just as much a form of prevention as the business itself. Down the line, there will be other opportunities for her to grow her business, enter a savings program, and earn goats as an incentive for keeping the business alive past the 6 month mark.
It's been 4 months now since Myson was deemed "recovered" and since he and his grandmother packed up their things. Not too much has changed. He's still healthy and she's still has jokes and she is still immensely grateful.
"M makè pedi Ti My" she says at least once per visit reflecting on the fateful day she choose to seek help. I almost lost Little Myson.
She shakes her head a few times in disbelief and follows with "Now he drinks milk all day, without stopping."
Now, that's something we won't ever get tired of hearing.