Going back to Haiti in 2017!

Hello friends, both near and far!  I am so excited to give you some updates about some things up ahead for me in 2017.  Those of you who have been following my blog likely remember my trip to Haiti last year.  I am very excited to let you know that I will be going back again this year!  And I need your help!

After my trip last year, I was given the opportunity to join the Advisory Board of Directors for the International Mission Foundation.  IMF currently partners with ministries in five countries, including Haiti, to provide support and resources to various ministries already active in those countries.  Though the Foundation itself is relatively new, the people involved with IMF have worked for years building partnerships and alliances with various ministries in each of the countries.

I am on the medical advisory board committee, and one of our goals this year is to set up a school-based primary health care program for the children in Chambon.  IMF has a long relationship with this community and has worked with them in the past on other community development projects.

Over the course of time, the community of Chambon has expressed an interest in having medical services more accessible to their village.  It is a very rural community, without easy access to a health care facility.  Our goal would be to help this village develop a community-based health program.

For the first phase of the program, we are going to start with the children enrolled in the Valley of Hope School.  Many of these children receive educational sponsorship through IMF, and we hope to have more sponsored in 2017.  (If you are interested in sponsoring one of the children, you can learn more here.)  Our team will set up shop for a few days at the school and offer well-child checks, preventative health teaching, and treatment of simple health problems (like minor infections, anemia, de-worming medication, etc.).  If we identify any complicated health problems or chronic illnesses, we hope to help families get referred or make connections locally for ongoing care.

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Valley of Hope School

There are several underlying principles that are guiding us as we undertake this project.  First, we believe that the community of Chambon is its own expert on its needs and local culture.  As such, we think it is very important to co-create a sustainable project with them, rather than administer health services to them.  We believe it is vital that the community be involved with each step of the process.  It is easy at the outset to think that we have so much we can teach them and do for them.  But we really want to approach this carefully, knowing that we also have much to learn from our Haitian friends.  Second, we are committed to handing this project back over to the community.  We are starting with the children, but we hope to expand the program in the future to include adults.  We hope to make some good connections with some Haitian health care providers who can partner with us to take care of the needs of this community in a culturally sensitive manner.  This community has expressed a desire to eventually have a free-standing health care facility of its own.  This is a big dream that fills my mind with lots of questions about logistics!  But we will take it one step at a time, with God at the wheel.

So, how can you help??  If you are interested, there are so many ways you can get involved!

  1. Travel with us!  We especially need pediatric nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians.   Since this phase of the program involves working with children, pediatric or family medicine experience is required.  If you are interested, or know someone else who would be interested, please let me know!  Our trip will take place July 1-7, 2017.
  2. Sponsor a child at the Valley of Hope School.  A sponsorship of $47/month covers the cost of educating a child, including tuition, uniform, shoes, school supplies, teacher training/salary, and a daily meal.
  3. Stay tuned!  We are in the process of applying for some grants that will hopefully help us to collect the medical supplies and medications we hope to take with us.  There will definitely be opportunities as the trip gets closer to donate either supplies or money to put toward supplies.
  4. Last but not least, pray for us, and for Chambon.  There is a lot of work to do, and July will be here before we know it!

 

Starfish

 

  

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:

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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.

Sunday in Chambone-4/10/16

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Our team: Laurie, Lauren, myself, Kelly, and Delcie

Today we had the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Haitian culture.  We spent the day in the rural mountain village of Chambone, worshipping at the church there and spending time with the locals.

Our drive on the way out to Chambone took almost an hour, and we got to drive through the streets of Port-Au-Prince on our way.  There are no traffic rules, except maybe that the biggest car wins!  The streets were packed with people and traffic.  We were all amazed at the skill of the Haitian women who could so effortlessly carry their cargo on their heads.  We saw many dressed in their Sunday best, headed to their respective places of worship.  Men were in suits, ladies wore their loveliest, and the little girls–oh, can I even begin to tell you how cute they were–wore their adorable dresses.  Somehow, admidst the dust of the streets and the lack of access to front-loading washing machines, those pretty dresses were bright white and perfectly pressed, the men’s shirts as well.  Among the many vendors in the street selling their wares, there were piles of garbage, standing in stark contrast to the beauty of the mountains in the distance.

As we headed into Chambone, the terrain became more rugged and the ride became bumpier.  We passed the home of the local witch doctor and paused briefly to survey her yard, with voodoo dolls hanging from the trees.  I learned that voodoo is the most common spiritual belief/practice in Haiti.  We passed goats, donkeys, and cows, none of them looking particularly well-nourished.  The people waved and smiled as we passed by, friendly but also interested in the novelty of our crew.

Our team leaders, Frank and Scott, have spent quite a bit of time in Chambone and have developed relationships with the people there.  We saw the pastor pumping water on the road to the church, and Frank stopped the car to say hello and tease the pastor that we would beat him to church!

The church service itself was much longer than what we are used to in North America.  Most of the service was in Creole, but some of it was translated into English for us.  One man got up and talked in Creole for what felt like a good 20 minutes.  I thought that was the sermon, but then Scott told me that was just the community announcements!  Ha!  We had a long way to go.  We also got to witness a baby dedication and participate in communion (P.S–no grape juice in this church, we got the real deal!).  The people were very welcoming, and though we did not all speak the same language, we worshipped the same God.

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The church in Chambone

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This is the school on the church property. 220 children learn here!

The ladies made us lunch, which was delicious and beautifully gracious.  My favorite part was spending time with the children of the village.  At first they were attracted to us because they knew we most likely came bearing gifts.  We did–bracelets, hot wheels cars, and other small trinkets, which they happily scooped up.  After lunch we took them to a small river to swim, and 3 beautiful little girls fought to sit beside me in the truck.  I showed the oldest how to play thumb war, and we played a few other clapping games.  She was 11 years old, but I would have guessed she was around 8 from the size of her.  The littlest one hugged my leg tight the entire ride, and I was grateful that she trusted me in that short car ride to keep her anchored to her seat.  I missed my babies at home.  The children all appeared well-nourished, which Frank and Scott told us is in part thanks to some of the local ministries that help to provide food.

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One of my new little girlfriends

The kids, very unselfconsciously, stripped down to their underpants and jumped in the river to cool off.  They made their own fun with no toys, sliding on the rocks and splashing.  I found myself wishing my kids could play with these little ones, to share in this simple joy, and to share the universal language of play with a child from another part of the world.
Those of you who know me well know that I am not a high-stamina person when it comes to outside stimulation.  It usually doesn’t take too much before I start to shut down and need some introvert time.  I was surprised today by my own curiosity.  I didn’t want to miss anything, and I had so many questions.  I wanted to hear everyone’s story and get to know as many as I could.

Tomorrow we get to take a visit to the museum in PAP to learn a little more about the country’s history.  We will also visit one of Heartline’s properties, which includes their women’s education center and the bakery.