The Starfish Story

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” 

― adapted from the original story by Loren Eiseley

We have been home from Haiti for a week now.  Our team has not stopped thinking about all the little “starfish” that we met on our trip.  Here are some of their sweet faces:


Our team has been thinking, brainstorming, and starting to make some plans for these little ones about how we can create a model of care to provide some basic health screening, monitoring of growth and development, preventive health care, and treatment of simple health problems.  You may recall that most of the children in the orphanages sponsored by Heartline are not able to be adopted, so they potentially will be in their current situation until they age out.  We see this as a huge opportunity to provide them with some basic preventative health care.  We approach this humbly, knowing that our knowledge of of how things “work” in Haiti is limited by our inexperience.  I am so grateful for all the smart, passionate women on our team who share this goal with me.

I will share more about how we hope to implement this plan once our team irons out the details a little more.  For now, keep praying for us to have wisdom in our planning!

4/14/16-Last full day

We had a more laid-back day today.  After breakfast we piled into the truck and headed out of PAP into the mountains to the Baptist Haiti Mission.  The ride up the narrow, bumpy mountain road was quite possibly the most terrifying ride ever, second only to the time my dad tried to drive up a dirt mountain road in Hawaii when we were kids that was so narrow he had to put the car in reverse in order to get back down.  But, I digress.  It was a good 10 degrees cooler at the top, which was a refreshing change after the stifling heat and humidity we had grown accustomed to this week.  Check out the view:

The Baptist Haiti Mission has been in existence since the 1940’s, started by the Turnbull family.  As we sat down in the small cafe to eat lunch, an elderly man with a walker approached our group.  Turns out, it was Wally Turnbull, one of the founders!  What are the chances?  It takes forever to get your food after ordering, but Wally kept us entertained with stories about the history of the BHM.  When the Turnbulls first arrived in the late 1940’s, the people living in the mountain villages were starving. The terrain was rocky and they had no way to grow food or support their families.  Often, the parents in the family would starve to death making sure that their children got what little food was available.  Wally and his father taught them terrace gardening, which is now a way of life up on the mountain.  They taught them to compost their trash to feed their gardens, instead of burning it.  The people can now grow their own food and feed themselves.  The school that was started at the BHM initially had 22 students, and has now grown to serve 68,000 students!


The hospital at the BHM

There is a hospital on the site, which we had an opportunity to walk through.  I felt extremely uncomfortable walking through the hospital, like I was intruding.  These were real people with real issues, and here I was taking a tour like I was visiting a zoo.  I wish I could have spoken the language so I could have made more of a connection with some of the people, rather than just saying hello and nodding at them sympathetically.  That said, I am so glad I was able to see this hospital.  Even just thinking about it, writing about it, my eyes well up.  There was a huge line to get in, people just sitting and waiting in the hallway.  It is common in Haiti to wait in line for days to be seen at the hospital, and even after getting to the front of the line, people sometimes get turned away if there is no room.  There were 3 main rooms, plus an operating room.  One room for the women, one for the men, and one for the children.  Within each room, the beds are lined up in rows, much like the one-room hospital wards of the distant past.  The stench is overwhelming.  When we stepped into the room with the children, I had to fight back tears.  I can’t imagine one of my kids receiving care in a place such as this.  My heart went out to these kids, and also the mothers keeping watch at their bedside.  Though I am shocked by the conditions at this hospital, I know the staff there must be doing the best they can with limited resources.  The only source of income for this hospital is from the fee-for-service that is charged to those who receive care.

On a less serious note, we got to do some shopping later in the afternoon!  We found a few treasures at the street markets outside the Mission, and then hopped in the truck for our ride toward death descent down the mountain.  We stopped at the coolest place, called Rebuild Globally.  There is an awesome store there called Deux Mains that makes flip flops from recycled tires.  The flip flops are made right on site.   In addition to recycling tires, the business provides well-paying jobs for Haitians.

Outside Rebuild Globally


A team of all women in a shoe store…we were there a while!!

The factory employs 20 full-time and 5 part-time employees.  Minimum wage in Haiti is around $5 per day.  The factory pays its workers 150-200% minimum wage, which has allowed every one of its employees to be able to afford to live in a permanent structure rather than a tent, and send their children to school.  It was so cool to get to see how they make their shoes.  The finished product is adorable, comfortable, stylish, and I may or may not have spent way too much money there!  Tell my husband when the bill comes that it was for a good cause!  Anyhow, you don’t have to go to Haiti to purchase their products.  They are available online here.  All of the merchandise is still made in Haiti but will ship from their U.S. warehouse in Miami.  Deux Mains also makes black closed-toe shoes for orphans in Haiti, which is a requirement for attending school.  Here are some pictures of the shoes being made:

In the evening, after dinner, our team had a chance to debrief and brainstorm about what’s next.  I am not sure at this point what will come out of this trip for each of us, or for us as a team.  There were some excellent ideas thrown out about different ways we could support the orphanages and possibly make some trips back to do some more health promotion and medically supportive interventions with them.  It is exciting to think about.  I am trying not to get to ahead of myself, and for now just stay open, be quiet, and listen.

4/13/16-Maternity center and FREM orphanage

Today was the day I had been looking forward to, the day we finally got to go see the maternity center.  We had the privilege of meeting Beth McHoul, the founder of Heartline and its maternity center.  We ate breakfast with her and listened as she imparted her wisdom.  She and her husband John have been serving and ministering in Haiti for 27 years!  Their ministry has grown from a small crèche, which cared for Haitian orphans awaiting adoption, to a whole host of ministries aimed at supporting and strengthening Haitian families.

The maternity center serves about 50 pregnant mothers at a time.  As mothers get further along in their pregnancy and deliver, the vacant spot is filled by a pregnant mother in the early stages of pregnancy.  Women are chosen for the program based on risk factors.  It is most common for the very young teens and the older mothers to die in childbirth, so these women are prioritized for the program.  Women come to the maternity center monthly at first for prenatal care, then more frequently toward the end of their pregnancy.  At each visit they have their vital signs checked, and then they are given a nutritious meal to eat.  They have a medical consultation with one of the midwives, and they are taught how to care for themselves during their pregnancy.  Beth told us that preeclampsia is the number one pregnancy complication that they see, made worse by the fact that many Haitian women also have chronic high blood pressure as well.  The maternity center is currently expanding their space, which will give them more room, particularly in their postpartum area.   There are also long term plans to build another maternity center on the OK Ranch property.


Beth’s exam room at the maternity center



The delivery room at the maternity center.


Beautiful painting at the maternity center. It says, “Strong women–may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them.”


After delivery, the women stay at the maternity center for several weeks, learning to breastfeed and bonding with their baby.  Breastfeeding is counter-cultural here, so women often require an immense amount of support.  They are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, and then continue breastfeeding for “1000 days”.  Women transition to the postpartum program after birth, where they come for weekly visits for 6 months to monitor their infant’s growth and development, and receive support for breastfeeding, parenting, and postpartum health needs.   The maternity center also offers family planning services one day per week.  Birth control is available and child spacing is encouraged.

I love that one of the goals of the maternity center is to prevent orphans.  Being in Haiti this week and visiting the orphanages has been eye-opening and heartbreaking.  I love that this program addresses that issue from the ground up, so to speak.

After looking around, we got to stock the shelves of the maternity center.  Look at all of the donations our team was able to bring!


We stocked up all the shelves!


Our team


I felt so excited stocking all those shelves up, and so thankful for all of you.  I am still in awe of how much all of you donated!

In the afternoon we visited an orphanage called FREM.  When we walked in the gates, the children immediately came to greet us.  All of them wanted to be picked up and held.  I found myself wishing, as I often do at home, that I had more than two arms!  These little ones captured my heart.  The conditions of this orphanage were much worse than the previous one we had visited.  The couple who ran the orphanage was caring and showed obvious concern for the children.  However, there were about 25 kids with only 3 adults.  They lacked resources.  None of the children had diapers.  They either wore no pants or their clothes were soaked through with urine.  The toddlers and preschoolers appeared the least healthy of the bunch.  The older kids and the one baby looked pretty vital.
I had the privilege of getting to use some of my medical skills while we were there, along with Kelly.  There were a few children that had rashes that the house parents were worried about.  One had ringworm on his scalp, which can be easily treated.  The other had eczema, and we advised the house mom about how to take care of both of those issues.  One little guy I had been told about prior to arrival. His growth has been really poor and he seems to fall ill often.  I was able to give my input about him so that some of his issues could be better addressed by one of the local doctors at the hospital.  All of the kids looked anemic, and several had pica.   Our team had a great conversation later about how we can support the health needs of the children at FREM in the long-term.  I am really excited to spend some time thinking, praying, and brainstorming about that.

I must be good to snuggle….



Fast asleep in my arms


The little ones just wanted to be held and loved.  That wasn’t hard for us!  One little guy crawled up in my lap.  I thought he wanted to play and started doing some clapping games with him.  He just looked at me.  Then he put his head down on my chest and fell asleep in 2 minutes flat.  He had his arms around me the whole time.   I felt so humbled that he would trust me, a total stranger, to lay his head on while he slept.  It was holy work.  Lauren, who is 14, was an instant hit with the older girls.  The girls noticed that Lauren’s nail polish was chipping, and pulled out the nail polish to give her a mani-pedi.  Once her nails were painted, one of the girls got some water and washed Lauren’s feet.  Another holy moment.


Lauen with the older girls


This guy was my little shadow the whole time we were there


Little one with cerebral palsy


Flashing the gang signs


I was able to give each of the girls a new dress from the supply my friend Mary gave me.  The girls loved them.  The boys stood there and looked really sad that they did not receive a dress.  It was so sad.  We left some candy, hot wheels cars, chalk, and bubbles for later.

Saying goodbye was hard.  Heartline helps to support FREM and 5 other Haitian orphanages though donations to the Heartline Foundation, and by providing food through Feed the Hunger.  I can’t stop thinking about those little ones.

When I signed up to go to Haiti, I initially thought that I would get to do some work with the maternity center, and I had a real burden to help them.  I love their mission and their way of doing things, and I still do after seeing it in action.  But, I was surprised at how being at the orphanages spoke to me and pulled on my heart.  I knew  we were going to be visiting orphanages, but I had no idea that I would connect so strongly with that experience.

4/12/16-Burn clinic, sports ministry, and a visit with the pantless fisherman

Another very full day here in Haiti!  After breakfast today, we headed out in the big truck just north of Port-Au-Prince, to the village of Titanyen.  We visited Global Outreach, which is a 66-acre compound with a variety of ministries.  They have been able to drill almost 350 wells in the surrounding area since starting their ministry in 1993.  In addition, they offer youth programs, a camp, and a burn clinic, among other things.

While there, we had the opportunity to visit Sheryl, who is the RN who runs the burn clinic.  Burns are unfortunately very common in Haiti.  Few people have electricity, so it is very common for people to have an open flame or fire for cooking, as a light source, or for burning trash.  Sheryl also sees many leg burns from motorcycles, since heat guards are not required over mufflers in Haiti.  We were amazed to learn the extent of what she does to care for these people, with limited resources.  In North America, burn treatments are usually performed after a generous dose of narcotics to treat pain, since debriding and treating burns is so incredibly painful.  As you can imagine, it is difficult in Haiti to obtain morphine or other narcotics for such purposes, so many patients are under-medicated for their treatments.


The well-stocked pharmacy at the burn clinic


The soaking tubs for the burn patients


Sheryl showing us one of the treatment rooms

We spent the afternoon helping with a very unique ministry called Sport Disciple.  This is a way of reaching out to the kids in the area through soccer!  The program currently serves about 800 children and so far has had an enormous impact on the surrounding community.  The children are split into soccer teams based on age and gender.  Each time they attend practice or game (one practice and one game per week), they are fed a nutritious meal upon arrival.  Then they play soccer, learning all of the great things that sports teaches like character, teamwork, perseverance, friendship, and not getting hit in the face with a ball (or maybe that was just what I learned?).  After they play, they sit to hear a short bible story or gospel message and pray before heading home. Their cleats and uniforms are provided.  Each team also adopts an elderly person in their community, and once per month they go with their coach to perform chores, cooking, and other acts of community service for them.  The program is lead by a missionary couple but staffed and coached by Hatians, which provides jobs and income for them.


Serving up food



Washing dishes

Our role at Sport Discipile was to help with serving food and washing dishes.  It was a very organized affair.  The kids ate in shifts.  The first team would line up to receive their food.  As they finished eating, the dishes would get passed back to us for washing.  The clean dishes were then given to the servers to dish up for the next team.  We fed and cleaned up after 200 kids!  Then we got to “play soccer” with the smallest group of girls (about 5-6 years old).  And by “play soccer”, I mean we got hugged and climbed on in excess, and gave a ridiculous number of piggy-back rides.  The girls were hungry for affection and so full of love.


One of the highlights of our day was meeting a fisherman named Tege (pronounced Tee-gay).  Tege has the good fortune of living right on the white sandy beach. Our leader, Frank, has become friends with Tege over the last few years, and since he is a fun person to visit, we had the chance to drop in.  As we headed out to see him, Frank said, “Let’s go see Tege….hopefully he’ll be wearing pants today!”  Apparently if you are a fisherman in Haiti, pants are optional!


Tege’s strong boys


Tege with his starfish


Thankfully, Tege was fully clothed today!  He was a gracious host.  He took us out for a ride in his boat, which he made himself by hand.  His two sons did the rowing.  They were super strong and lean.  We watched as Tege dove off the side of the boat to catch 2 huge red starfish.  He was so proud!  We then enjoyed visiting with his family after our boat ride.


Tege’s hand-made boat

What I would say so far about my trip overall is that it has been eye-opening, life-changing, humbling, and exciting.  I have been battling with some disappointment over not getting to do as much medical or nursing activities as I had originally hoped.  However, the things that we have had the opportunity to be involved in have been awesome, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them!

4/11/16-A country of “unlimited impossibilities”

We did so much today, and learned so many things, that I barely know where to start to tell you about it.  First, I have to tell you that being here is so much different than reading about it, seeing pictures, or even hearing someone talk about it.  I think that coming here, being in the culture, meeting the people, and seeing with my own eyes has given me a much greater perspective, one I will reflect on more in the coming weeks.  For now, I will tell you as much as I can about our comings and goings.

After battling the normal morning traffic, we started our day with a tour of the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, also known as MUPANAH.  There, we learned about the history of Haiti.  Our guide gave us a very detailed tour through Haiti’s difficult struggle for political independence and freedom from slavery, all the way back to Columbus.  The museum actually has the anchor of the Santa Maria displayed, which was just mind-blowing!

After our history lesson, we headed to one of Heartline’s properties, which they affectionately call the “OK ranch”.  We had lunch and got a tour around the property, so we could see all of the different ministries that take place there.  We had the pleasure of meeting with a small group of young men who had just graduated from the men’s discipleship program, and got to hear about how the program had impacted their lives.  One of the men, in speaking of the more difficult aspects of his culture, described Haiti as a country of “unlimited impossibilities”.  I can’t stop thinking about that.

We visited the bakery, which was much busier than I expected.  The bakery at Heartline uses 1000 pounds of flour per day!  They mostly make bread, but also make pizza and some pastries as well.  Some of the bread is sold to street vendors to sell, and some is sold out of Heartline’s store-front.  The bakery also provides food for the guest house and the maternity center,  and any leftover bread is donated.  The bakery has created jobs for local Haitians, and Heartline also uses it to teach men in the discipleship program job skills that they can use to make themselves more marketable after graduation.



Bread from the bakery is baked fresh all throughout the day. This shape of bread is called “digicell”, though no one knows where that name came from.


Some of the men making turnovers for the bakery.

The Women’s Education Center (WEC) is also on this property.  When it first opened, Heartline offered the educational programs at no cost.  They found that in doing this, the people did not perceive the program as valuable, because it was free and the students did not hold any stake in their success.  So they now charge tuition, but it costs slightly less than comparable programs in the area.  The women all take literacy first, and then can also choose to do their 9-month certificate program in either cooking, artisan crafts, or sewing.  This gives the women the marketable skills they need to take care of their families.  The women who graduate can go on to take the nationally accredited exams in their field.  The passing rate for the graduates of the WEC is  >99%!


The Women’s Education Center.


Some of the ladies from the advanced sewing class, their work is hanging up.

Apparently it is very common in Haiti for women to be unmarried with many children (often of different fathers).  Having no skills or education means that they, of course, have no way to support their children.   Haitian fathers are typically uninvolved with raising and supporting their children, even though it is a source of pride for a man to say that he has fathered many children.  I learned today that it is relatively uncommon for couples to get married, because prior to marrying a couple is required by law to own a headboard (yes, as in a headboard on a bed!) and a home.  As this is financially unattainable for so many young people, marriage is not the norm.    Bottom line: women need to have ways to support themselves and their families!


The women learn to sew on these older style of sewing machines. Since they don’t require electricity, this is the type of machine they would most likely use in the Hatian marketplaces after graduation.

The OK ranch was peppered with livestock, which are mostly kept as “pets”.  There is a sizable tilapia farm which is completely self-sustainable.  The tilapia are farmed onsite in large barrels, and once the fish are fully grown they are used to feed the women in the maternity center program, who receive a meal each time they visit the MC for the prenatal program.  The fish provide valuable nutrients for their growing babies.  The nutrient-rich water that comes out of the tilapia tanks is then used to water the adjacent garden, which provides another source of nutrition for the MC women, as well as for the Heartline missionaries and staff.


Delcie checking out the tilapia tanks.

Our last major stop was to the Ryan Epps Home for Children.  We had an opportunity to spend time with the children, hand out some hygiene items, kick a ball around,  and give lots of hugs.  These were probably the most well-behaved children I have seen in a long time.  Such sweethearts– it was a joy to meet them.  It was heartbreaking to find out that none of these children can be adopted, because they don’t have the proper papers.  So, Haiti won’t let them out, and no other country will let them in without a parent signing a formal relinquishment of parental rights, or documented proof that both of the parents are deceased.  I met the most beautiful little girl with pink ribbons in her hair.  Her name was Ange, and she was 3 years old.  She locked eyes with me the whole time but was too shy to talk much.  We also met a little one with a severe developmental delay and obvious medical problems.  She was very hypotonic and globally delayed.  Health care resources in Haiti are limited, and her medical history is unknown, so the staff did not know her underlying diagnosis.  They loved her dearly and were taking excellent care of her with the resources they did have.  I thought about all of the disciplines that would be involved with her care if she lived in North America–PT, OT, speech, nutrition, orthotics, neurology, genetics, to name a few.

We then got stuck in traffic for about 2 hours on the way to dinner, a common occurrence here.  I feel like a lot of the traffic issues in Port-Au-Prince would improve if more people rode bicycles.  That said, the road conditions and terrain being what they are in PAP, I can’t imagine anyone surviving very long on a bicycle!  Sorry Jeff honey, not a good place for your bike!