Second Mile Haiti

Welcome to our blog! This is a place for us to keep friends and supporters up-to-date with the latest 'Second Mile' happenings! Check in often. Things are moving fast!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thought of the Year

In traveling back to Texas I had the opportunity to be around people I love. I got to see people, old friends and loved ones, who have invested in me. I know there were times that I may not have been easy to love. I know there was about a year of my life where I could have been considered a lost cause. When I look at my life I know I have been blessed because of so many people who, instead of writing me off, chose to and continue to invest in me. 

Want to know what's at the heart and core of Second Mile? Investments. We want to invest in people in the country of Haiti. This is why we are here. We want to invest in people in a way that has an impact on multiple aspects of their lives... not just the fringes. That's why we have 13 employees and not 80. It's important for us to walk up to them everyday to say hello and ask how their families are doing. It's important for us to pay people well. When we start expanding and adding more employees it will be because we feel like we can pay them like they deserve to be paid, and that we can still find enough time in our day to walk and talk to each one of these employees. 

We want these employees to have the opportunity to learn as much as possible and to do everything they can outside the box. Why? Well because Amy and I have both had the opportunity to work and live outside the box. We have had the chance to do things that people don't normally get to do unless you have this specific degree or because you went to that school or because you have this previous work experience. Sometimes all it takes is someone willing to give you a chance to learn through experience. We have workers from a variety of villages, none of whom have any education beyond some secondary school. We want to provide opportunities for them to act on their love of learning and expand on their skills.. like through english lessons, garden trainings, business and health seminars, etc.  We value these individuals immensely and love that we all get to work together. I mean that's why we are all here right? To work together for the greater purpose? 

group prayer
Shelling beans-a multi-step process, best done as a team
Employee English class! 

12 moms and 12 babies. This is what our facility is designed to facilitate. You may think that number is low but we really don't think so. It's better to stay small than to run the risk of a mom or a baby falling through the cracks. We need to be on our game. We need to made sure these moms get to experience the various experiences we offer and that their babies are improving... going UP on the weight charts and not down. We invest in the moms so that their children don't become malnourished again. 

A mom gardening with staff help
Patient teachers

leading by example
Dadou giving a mom good business advice

These are our investments: the employees, the moms, and the babies. We invest in our employees so they will invest in their families, friends, neighbors, and the mom and babies that enter through our gates. We watched this happen over the last few months. We have seen our employees take the time to teach a garden class or talk about their own business ventures. And we definitely see them showing love to the moms and babies. When there aren't any moms at the property we hear the employees asking each other if anyone has seen or heard from any of the moms or if anyone knows how the kids are doing. When the moms and kids are at the property the employees PRAY for them and when they aren't there they pray even harder. 

The moms have been doing some re-investing of their own. We heard a great story recently about two (of the four) former Second Mile Haiti moms. These two women became friends while they were staying at our facility. The baby of the first mom was hospitalized for several days in July. Come to find out, not only did the second mom visit her and her baby daily, she also came with food she had prepared for them.  How do you not stop and think.. out of everything we have accomplished nothing matters more than these investments...? The investments, hopefully, will have lasting effects that keep going even when "Second Mile" no longer exists.. (But don't get any ideas.. not planning to leave Haiti anytime soon :) 

Employee, Verdieu, and Marie-Ange's mom posing after they finish a flower planting project

So, if you are looking to invest in something try investing in us so that we can continue to make investments like these. I promise we won't let you down.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Good Life

It feels really good to be writing this blog post. We’ve been back in Haiti for approximately 3 days after a 3 week (give or take a few days...) trip to Arizona, California, Oregon (by default), and Seattle. 

We had a GREAT time in the States. I wish Trader Joe’s had a sticker program for free stuff based on spending. We would have totally made bank. Together we visited our favorite store 6 times in two weeks. Call it what you will. I call it Wonderland.

We also visited Whole Foods but that was like, "WHOA." There were just too many options for a population of people I like to call those with Special Food Needs. Jenn and I can’t eat gluten or dairy and a few other things. So naturally, when you are used to just not eating things like pizza and ice cream it becomes a bit of a temptation to indulge in insanely expensive pre-packaged, pre-made “special” foods. They had aisle after aisle after aisle of this stuff. It was food culture-shock in it’s most enticing form. The ice cream section alone contained so many dairy-free ice cream alternatives that I about froze my face off trying to decide whether I wanted the rice milk-based ice cream, the coconut milk-based ice cream, or an ambiguous option labeled simply “dairy free ice cream”  We settled on the dairy-free and called it a treat. But I could only handle that Whole Foods thing once.. 

Stores like these and adventures like ones we had, coupled with amazing friends, and the peace, calm, and pure fun that defined this vacation made it hard to leave. But how can we not be extremely thankful for the opportunity to take this trip and what we get to come back to in Haiti? That was good and so is this.  

Some highlights from the trip? 

This wedding and all the days leading up to it.  Three nights in a cabin with a dozen of our most favorite people and time to explore the great outdoors of Wrightwood, CA

Congratulations David and Rochelle Younan-Montgomery! 

This wedding and the days leading up to it. So much So-Cal and Seattle fun. Two weddings, with the same crowd, two weeks apart.

Congratulations Dana and Warrick! It was perfect! 
Amy and Jenn in the bridal party, oh yeah! With pink shoes, double yeah!
This photo.
Cherry Street Coffeehouse, Seattle, WA

And these photos
The most amazing women you'll ever meet! 
mixin' it up with the bride
The Old L.A. Zoo
Los Angeles
we're happy because we love these people! 
The Griffith Observatory
Venice Beach, CA
Pike's Place Market
And, our road trip from Northern California to Seattle via the California Redwoods...another very amazing highlight.  

Allow me to elaborate. 

We rented a car in San Jose, California and embarked on an 823 mile road trip up the coast. During the drive we stopped twice to stretch our legs and nearly 100 times to pee. If you’ve never been to this part of California, I encourage it, two hands up. You literally park the car, step inside the tree-line, and are immediately engulfed by nature. Our runs were breathtaking. Truly, I just stopped breathing for a second just thinking about the glorious forest and those trees, the size of giants. On Day 2 we found a trail called the Rhododron Trail and followed it for 4.5 miles, 11 roundtrip. It was so intoxicating that we ran it, all! I’m sure all those oxygen generating trees were partly responsible for making this possible given that we aren’t typically accustomed to running such longish distances. I would do it again today, and tomorrow if I could. I would also like to show you pictures but on a little six-mile scamper the evening before we lost Jenn’s iphone. I say “we” because the trail was a .5 mile loop so dizzying (in a beautiful way) that by the time we were finished we were thoroughly disoriented and can’t actually remember who was responsible for the phone when it went missing.

Well the Redwoods are pretty and you’ll just have to take our word for it. Or consult google. Oh, and we also saw wild Elk. Only, we can’t prove it. 

While in the States we also got to do a little connecting with supporters. In Tucson I got to catch up with a small group that has supported our story from the beginning. Later we had a dessert that allowed for even more connecting and sharing. Then in San Jose California our new friends the Doyle’s hosted a brunch to bring awareness to a new group of people. This time Jenn and I got to share together which is always better than hearing the stories from just me.. A quick thank you to everyone who attended these events and to those who helped host them.

And a big thank you to the youth from Faith Baptist Church in New York! Also while we were away, these kids gave over $1,000 through their VBS offering. It’s enough for us to purchase 18 pregnant goats! We are so encouraged by their generosity and enthusiasm. Thanks also to Katie and Matt who taught the kids about Haiti and spoke on hour behalf. You deserve badges. Or Trader Joe’s stickers. 

Back in Haiti we have had a small amount of adjusting to do.  Namely, our apartment smells like mildew which is pretty typical after a short time away. Our internet stopped working after receiving an “electrical shock.” And our power situation has been a bit shifty.. and by shifty I mean we’ve had about 3 - 6 hours of power a day. But don’t worry I-TECH, I’m talking about power at our apartment.. not at the land. That system runs like a dream. :) 

We realized while in the States that although I had recently treated myself for giardia, Jenn on the other hand began showing all the symptoms for this parasitic intestinal infection, including acute stomach pains and some really gross burps. It’s no secret. We all smelt them. After doing some research our hunch was that our healthy eating habits in Haiti including meals profuse in garlic and onions, which apparently have anti-infective actions in your gut had kept Jenn’s giardia symptoms at bay only to strike when we were in American and without access to healthcare. So that’s one reason we are really happy to be back. Jenn gets to take medicine to treat giardia and everyone is a little happier because of it. :) Don’t worry I had permission to share that story. :)

Our trip home spanned 3 days due to crazy long layovers... but for the price of the tickets it was worth it. I think. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and on Wednesday morning Jenn was back at the land to catch up with all the employees. Since then Jenn’s been working like crazy to get the land back in order... but let’s be real, crazy is her normal. I’ve been catching up with the miscellaneous and out and about in town, including market shopping and internet fixing, and dog sitting. 

This trip to the States was unlike any other in terms of what we left behind. This time, we had 13 employees and a whole bunch of livestock. For the most part, the employees stayed well and so did the animals. 

When we returned we were welcomed with photos of all the veggies that were harvested in our absence. While it may not seem like much, we are super proud of these photos. That’s food! And it came from the land! It’s a modest start but hey, at least we’ve started! 

Okra and Sweet Potatoes

Our next challenge will to be to figure out how to control the pests naturally, without using pesticides. We just let this round of crops spring up without any interference, organic or otherwise, and of course we had some losses. 

While we were gone the guys were hard at work producing bio-char, using sugarcane, a renewable and sustainable replacement for wood-based charcoal. Check out this photo that popped up on the Carbon Roots International facebook page while we were away. 

Bio-char production contributes to our sustainability as an organization, with sales comprising a portion of the employees salaries
The sugar cane stocks, essentially the waste products of local rum distilling businesses, are burned in these kilns to make a char powder. The char can then be used as fertilizer for the crops, pressed into cooking briquettes, or sold by the kilo. 100% sustainable. 

The guys have 15 barrels going at once! 
Before we left all of the moms and babies had returned to their own homes so part of Dadou’s job was to follow-up with the women and their businesses. We were incredibly pleased to look through these photos. I could tell the women had made really smart decisions in purchasing new items with their profits. I saw eggs sitting atop one of the mom’s stash of products. I saw pasta individually packaged and ready for re-sale sitting with another. 

These weren’t in the initial array of items the women took home with them as part of the business program. These are new. Purely a product of sales and the re-accumulation of stock. Because it will take awhile for the women to really make enough of a profit to do more than just feed their children from day to day (think school, emergencies, clothing, extras, etc) it is a really big deal to watch the moms reinvest their  small profits into the process. 

Of course, in coming back we were eager to be brought current on the health status of each of the babies. I checked in with the hospital to see whether the moms had brought their kids in for follow-up appointments. It was encouraging to see that 3 out of the 4 moms had respected their rendevous and that the babies appeared to be healthy at their visits. 

We have such confidence in these moms and such hope that their families with reap nothing but health and good fortune. But with the amount of tragedy we’ve seen and experienced we are nearly always braced for bad news. The 4th baby gave us a scare. While away, we learned that this particular baby had lost all the weight they had gained during their stay at Second Mile plus some, and was hospitalized for immunodeficiency. Thankfully at the moment this child is doing okay. Still, I haven’t stopped breathing silent prayers. 

I’ll say this once. The referrals we receive are from orphanages and also from hospitals and other healthcare programs that treat children living with HIV. Not all the women are HIV positive but some, if not most, are. These babies are sick. There are hurdles, like big bad drug resistant germs to surmount. So they won’t all make it, even despite our best efforts to be the solution. We aren’t the solution. But since we believe that moms deserve to be the caregivers of their children, Second Mile is our personal resolve to not be just another orphanage or just another foreigner with “we do it better” answers. Babies are sick and moms lack resources. It’s not even that they lack knowledge necessarily. In fact, one of the moms that recently came through Second Mile scored an 88% on her health comprehension pre-test. Meaning she had an above average grasp on how to keep her child healthy despite having never attended a day of school in her life. The local hospital and other grassroots programs near her home had sufficiently provided her with everything she needed to know. But knowing is only half the battle. There are your best practice, text-book responses and then there is being able to afford that level of care. Money matters. 

All this to say... their businesses may be the most important thing happening as we speak. That and the love-fest Dadou stumbled upon when visiting Witchana’s home. Have you gotten tired of this momma’s smile? We haven’t. 

And finally, corn. Corn, corn, corn. We can’t stop talking about corn! If you attended our San Jose fundraiser you know this full well. With the corn we reaped from the first harvest we will be able to cut our chicken feed cost drastically. For the next several months (until the next corn harvest) we will combine half home-grown corn with half commercial chicken feed. And we will be able to serve what is known in Haiti as mayi, a corn based staple food, for the employees’ lunch time meal and for moms and babies when we have them again. 

We expect to be ready to re-open our doors in a few weeks. Our goal is to get the irrigation situation under control, purchase 3 additional cows that were recently funded, prepare the fields to plant corn and beans for a second harvest, and another round of vegetable seeds planted. 

In other exciting news, the solar panel project (also recently funded in full!) is underway with the panels  en route to Florida where they'll be loaded onto shipping containers and make their way here by boat. We're not expecting them anytime soon but we are excited that they're on their way.

Hopefully we'll get back into the swing of "normal," whatever that is, soon.