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 Chambon-4/10/16


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.


The church in Chambone


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.


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.



Getting photo-bombed before departure

Well, after a full day of travel, I am happy to report that I made it safely to Port-Au-Prince!  It was a long day, full of very confusing airport rules.  I am the WORST at “airporting”.  Every time I go on a plane I just end up looking like a complete moron.  I decided to embrace it this time, and just tell the personnel up front that I don’t travel much, I am really bad at this, and please don’t yell at me if I make a mistake.  The girl at ticketing gave me the blank stare, but otherwise my honesty was well received and I got the support I needed to make it through.  Aside from a small snafu in the security check with a brand new bottle of specialized bug spray that cost $12 on Amazon that I was forced to throw in the trash, I came out relatively intact with my belongings in tow.

Once we arrived, the sun was already down.  We were driven from the airport in Heartline’s truck.  Check it out:


Our chariot for the week

I am staying at the Heartline guest house.  It is very safe and secure, in a gated area with security guards and 2 large dogs.  We were fed a meal upon arrival and had some time to settle in and get the lay of the land.  I got to call my babies, which resulted in much weeping (them, not me!).  Everyone pray for Jeff this week, will you?

It is super hot here.  I am working up an Olympic sweat just typing this, even though I am sitting directly in front of a fan.  It is going to be a very drippy week!  Tomorrow we will be heading out to Chambone, which is a rural village where we will be attending church and spending some time with the people  there.  Can’t wait to tell you all more about it tomorrow!


Prepping and packing

My trip to Haiti is just one week away now!  Yesterday I had the day off work and was able to use a big chunk of it making some much needed preparations.  After I picked the kids up from their morning day camp program, we headed over to InterVol, which is this really cool place in Rochester that sends unused and donated medical supplies to countries in need.  I contacted them several months ago after hearing about them from a friend.  So I set out with my two little helpers!


Leah wants to be the “poster girl” for InterVol

InterVol’s mission is “to connect the world’s neediest to materials, people, and opportunities”.  After arriving I was greeted by a nice man who was waiting for us with the surgical instruments we had requested a few months ago.  The kids were a little confused.  These are instruments?  They look like fancy scissors, not like the flutes and trombones we were expecting to see!  It really cracks me up that in their minds they were picturing me packing musical instruments to take on my medical missions trip!

We were told that we could go back to the warehouse, look around, and help ourselves to other supplies that might be useful for our trip.  I had been so curious to see what the warehouse looked like and what they kept in there, so it was very exciting to take a look around.


Walls and walls of supplies….


All of the flags represent countries that InterVol has shipped to

Anyone who has worked in the medical field knows how much of the things we use go to waste.  It was so wonderful to see a place like this where these unused supplies could be repurposed and put to good use.  It was hard for me to control myself in there, as there was so much to choose from!  I tried to keep in mind that anything I picked up would have to somehow fit in my suitcase!

The kids were enthusiastic helpers, and got to work looking for various items I had pointed out from Heartline’s wish list.  I heard them both expanding their vocabularies as they sounded out some of the big words on the labels.  “Ur-i-nar-y cath-e-tar.  What is that?”  Then, from across the warehouse I heard Nate holler, “Mom, hey Mom!  Do you need BUTT DRAPES?  Because I found some BUTT DRAPES!  Do you think they could use BUTT DRAPES Mom?”


What have we here?


A 9-year old’s dream come true! Potty humor is everywhere!

We left the butt drapes at the warehouse, in case you are wondering.  But we came out with a great haul:


We gathered some IV catheters, syringes, needles, gloves, sutures, surgical scrubs, and surgical (not musical) instruments


Then we headed home to add our haul to the growing pile at home.  Leah loves to help, so we set up in the basement and started packing as much as we could into 2 suitcases.  Nate got in on the action too.


Here are all the supplies we have been collecting for months!

I started to wonder how we would ever get all this stuff to Haiti!  First we made a huge mess, but after some effort we were able to get everything into 2 suitcases and 2 boxes.  I plan to ship the boxes later this week, and the suitcases I will take with me of course.


Suitcase #1, mostly personal care and hygeine items, some toys as well


Suitcase #2, all medical supplies!


Finished! Now, where will I put my clothes?


After packing, we discovered a little care package in the mail from Heartline!  Inside were some luggage tags, a travel journal, sunglasses, and an awesome t-shirt designed just for our team.  It is super fun:

My shirt makes me feel really special, and super excited.   It feels real now!

The kids, of course, had to try the t-shirt on for size too!

Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this effort!  I have been completely overwhelmed by your support and love.  I am so thankful that my friends and family could support me on this journey, whether you donated supplies, gave money, prayed, or just encouraged me and cheered me on, it is all very much appreciated!  Stay tuned!  I travel next Saturday, and I hope to blog while I am there to keep you informed of the day-to-day happenings.  Also, you can watch my hair get crazy frizzy.  That is 100% entertainment right there, trust me!  It will be something like this: