The Beginning

it's time

It's time to write a blog post about time. 

I'll be honest. I don't really want to be "blogging" right now. It feels a bit obligatory. It also feels a bit like forcing happy when in actuality I'm feeling far from it. My better half/partner in crime is far away in America and going through a hard time. Jenn left Haiti on the 13th. Her grandmother passed away 3 days later at far too young an age and far too soon after Jenn and her siblings had to face the death of their father (in March). Today is the memorial service for 'Mimi' and Jenn is giving the eulogy. I wish I could be there. I could have joined the family for the services, of course. But I simply didn't get up and go. Leaving Haiti tends to be more difficult than staying. 

Still despite the rainy, dreary week (and the broken vehicle, and a new baby with a heart condition, and a new baby with TB, and sickness, and death, and the events happening in Texas, and the wrath of Chickengunya that seems to be ravaging Port-au-prince and creeping it's way up the central coast to the North) I really must blog. The tricky thing about time is, it's fleeting. 

If you don't take advantage of a moment, it's gone. 

So in this moment I'd like to recognize that it has been 1 year since Second Mile Haiti opened its proverbial (and literal) doors. That's right! On May 15th, 2013 a 31-year-old mother of two arrived at our facility with her 9-lb 19-month-old baby girl. Those first few nights she was the only momma at the facility until, a few days later, we got a call about another mother and child. This mom had 5 children but it was her youngest, and only daughter, who was struggling with malnutrition.

Moms Claire and Rosna with daughters Marie-Ange (then 19-months) and Witchana (then 15 months). 

May 2013 (one year ago) Claire sits by Rosna in the Education Center to support her on her "going home, graduation day" 

May 2013 (one year ago) Claire sits by Rosna in the Education Center to support her on her "going home, graduation day" 

Two girls 

Two girls 

These two moms laid the foundation. They showed us what it would look like to partner with moms. They were genuine, receptive, patient, and kind; wise, resilient, and strong. With their children they were self-less, nurturing, and affectionate.  We loved them (and still love them) a lot. We are grateful that they shared there lives with us for a little bit. Claire and Rosna are seriously good people. 

Claire offering Marie Ange some yummy mamba! 

Claire offering Marie Ange some yummy mamba! 

Rosna with Witchana at home, a few months after their short 15-day stay at Second Mile Haiti. 

Rosna with Witchana at home, a few months after their short 15-day stay at Second Mile Haiti. 

The two women had a lot in common and became fast friends. They live in two different towns at least 30 minutes apart. But we know they call each other on the phone to check in and sometimes they'll show up for a visit to Second Mile on the same day. 

That's what happened last week. Both Claire and Rosna came with their girls on the same day!  The moms were happy to see each other and I think Witchana would have been eager to play with Marie-Ange...but not so much the other way around. When we tried to get a picture of the two girls sitting together MA was not having it! It would have been the ultimate then and now shot, something like recreating an old family photo. But Marie Ange is so attached to her momma that no one was going to be able to get her to sit by herself (although Witchana did make a valiant attempt to hold her friend still).

I shouldn't have deleted those photos. They were hilarious. But unfortunately, I did.  

While we didn't get to recreate that photo from last May what we do have is a few photos that will show just how well these girls are doing now, 12 months after they first spent time at Second Mile. 

Marie Ange at 19 months and 31 months. 

marie ange 2 .jpg
marie ange 4 .jpg

Witchana at 15 months and 27 months. 

witchana 1.jpg

I know that today is actually May 22nd (actually it's now the 25th!) And here we are a week after our 1 year anniversary. But I think this is one of those better-late-than-never posts. 

Because... this. 


Witchana looks great! (So does Marie Ange). And these moms are happy. 

So maybe Second Mile did make just an teensy-weensy bit of difference for these families. Maybe it was the nutritional nudge. Witchana gained 1.5 lbs in her 10 days at Second Mile. And Marie Ange made the most progress during her second stay at Second Mile where she gained 5.5 lbs in 7 weeks. Or maybe it was the follow-up, the education, or the business (i.e. income). It was probably the business.. or a combination of things. And just to be fair, these mothers unlike many of the others are fortunate to have access to healthcare services that are about 80% free to them. This means that both girls can get care when they are sick. That's a huge factor in their staying healthy and we need to recognize this particular hospital and the Haitian Ministry of Health for making those services available to them).

Still, I think it's fair to say that both of these girls were in pretty bad shape initially (especially MA). The rehabilitation they received at Second Mile was, in fact, a good and necessary intervention. The thing about malnutrition is that it causes you to be more susceptible (in a weakened immune state) to other infections. And the thing about other infections is that they can cause or worsen malnutrition.

Sick kids sometimes just aren't very hungry or don't want to eat. And even when they do eat, the calories they consume are directed towards fighting the infection rather than weight gain and growth.

It's clearly not ideal to stay in a malnourished state for any length of time.

40% of childhood deaths, world-wide, are of dual-cause: infection in the presence of malnutrition. That's kind of why it's such a big deal to be able to help families get medical care. Not all infections are easy to treat. Treatment for TB, for example, is a long and cumbersome undertaking for both families and health-care providers. The WHO believes that 74,000 children die from TB each year (WHO Global TB Report 2013). Severely malnourished children and children with HIV are the most susceptible to TB and the most likely to die because of it. And TB is just one example. There are plenty of yucky illnesses and infections ready to prey on the vulnerable. 

So, the getting healthy was important. 

But the moral of this story is the staying healthy. And our conclusion is that moms can. They absolutely can. These pictures in this post weren't before and after pictures showing the progress made when both mother and child were at Second Mile. These were taken a year later... The girls stayed healthy with their mothers and aunts and grandmas and home... despite all of life's challenges and expenses.

So hat's off to you, mommas. And Happy Haitian Mother's Day! 

Things Just got a little more "legit"

We had a team last week! That's quite rare around here but we really enjoyed this team and we are so thankful all the hard work they put into making the facility more usable. They worked marvelously with the Second Mile employees in a way that gave them ownership of some of the projects (see the deck project below).

The project wish list we set before the team could have seemed terribly daunting, but they completed the tasks with ease and efficiency. Serious, efficiency.

Most mind blowing was the way they tackled the chair project. We borrowed a model chair (desk) from another organization and wanted 20 chairs built to suite. So, in the most sensical of ways they started cutting wood. They sliced and diced 1 x 4s until they had 20 sets of the various chair components. 

The pieces were varnished and assembled.

Loudjina's dad worked with the team all week

I think it's fair to assume that the Ferguson's and Jason enjoyed getting to know Loudjina's dad, Jimmy. He worked at the site for two weeks to earn the money the family would need to go to Port au Prince to meet with a team of neurosurgeons. Jimmy and his mother-in-law left for Loudjina's surgery consult the same day that our team left to head back to the States. I'm sure many of you are wondering what happened.

Based on the January assessment of Loudjina's condition the surgeons had ruled out the possibility of placing a shunt, yet there was still talk of an alternative surgery. Sadly, when the family showed up to the hospital on Friday the surgeons deemed that her pressure sores posed too great a risk that the surgical site would become rapidly infected. We had suspected that... There's always the tendency to gear ourselves up for the bad news, even when at our core we hope for a miracle.

heading to the bus station

At this point, we are at peace. We were able to help the family make three trips to Port where they met with US based neurosurgeons. At least they had a chance. Between those trips they spent a combined total of 10 weeks at our site during which we loved them and stood beside them through some of the scariest,  happiest, and most painful of moments.

Deep down I struggle with how unfair it is for Loudjina to have lived her life like this. Such a cumbersome existence. And her parents... and grandparents, aunts and uncles and the friends that have loved her... it's not fair for them that she won't live as long as she should.

It shouldn't be like this.. but it is.

Acceptance brings peace. And I find comfort in my belief that God, who is love, loves Loudjina in-quantifiably more than myself or Jenn, or her parents, or the surgeons that devote their lives to kids like Loudjina, ever could. That's the silver lining. The other silver lining is that Loudjina has a ridiculously cool wheelchair. On the Wednesday before they left for Port-au-Prince, our friends at Haiti Hospital Appeal called. They wanted to make sure Loudjina didn't miss out on this amazing opportunity.

We quickly loaded up the family in the truck and Jenn took them over to the hospital where Loudjina was fitted with a custom wheelchair, courtesy of Canada Healing Hands. This group worked tirelessly to create the perfect chair for what must have amounted to hundreds of kids in and around Cap Haitien. What a special moment it was for Loudjina and family, and all of the children who were able to benefit.

The next day Loudjina took a spin in her new chair. Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, the team continued working. By this time they were finishing up the tiling project. The two rooms adjacent to the education center have been unused to date but will soon become an office and a sewing room. The tile will help keep the rooms clean and bright.

With a little coaching, Joslin and Verdieu were able to tile one of the two rooms on their own. 

Joslin and Verdieu got an "intro to tiling" during Jason's last trip. Last January, Jason and the guys tiled the space we've cleverly dubbed "the upstairs apartment." It's a second story building where some of our employees sleep. It also has a bathroom, a kitchen, and an area that doubles as Jenn's office. It's also where we make enriched milk. And it's been home to many a spontaneous staff meeting. Thanks to the team, this space has a lovely new chalkboard, made possible by plywood and chalkboard paint.

After the tiling and the chairs, the team built four picnic tables and four table/desks. They also made several more chalkboards. Now the education building is ready for action! 

Well, I suppose we still have some cleaning to do. We will have to move some of these picnic benches out under the mango tree. Then we will line up the desks to give that traditional classroom feel. 

Why are we so excited about chairs and tables?! Well, the education building has given us an opportunity to host community events, although without any benches, we always had to hall out the beds to use for seating. Also, the moms come to the education center for their business classes and some of their health classes and it is used by staff when they want to meet for prayer and worship. The garden employees have always taken their lunch here. Now they will have a wider range of seating choices and an actual place to rest! They will still come into this space for special training seminars, only now they won't have to sprawl out to take notes!

before the new desks

20 desks! 

Ama, is arguably the most excited about these improvements. He gets to teach a literacy class to the moms! As a former school professor, his heart for teaching is one of our favorite things about him. He values education and he loves to learn.

When we spoke with him about the possibility of teaching some basic reading and writing skills he jumped on it. Jenn broached the subject with him and that very same day, after a long 8-hours in the gardens he went home, changed into some "teacher clothes" and headed over to officially enroll the moms in his class. It was very, very official. He made two lists, one with the names of women who could read and write and the other with those who can't. Then he submitted a written request to Jenn. Notebooks, please. 

The last and final project, was a deck that was built with the intention to get some of the cooking up off the ground. It's just the beginning but we are very pleased to see how easily the deck came together.  We plan to add a palm-branch canopy (similar to the one on our chicken coop) which will ensure that every one eats even during the rare, mid-afternoon rain storm. 

Using clorox bottles to make cement posts

Using clorox bottles to make cement posts

a quick lesson on making things level

current cooking area

current cooking area

Between the desk-chairs, and the wheelchairs, I'd say we had a great week. Thanks again team!