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!

Monday, August 11, 2014

We've moved!

Hello Second Mile Haiti blog readers!

Were you starting to wonder what happened to us???

Hopefully you weren't too worried.

But, if by chance you did notice a significant decline in Second Mile Haiti related news, it's because we've moved. No we haven't left Haiti! We just gave our website a big facelift and we decided to start blogging from within our website now, rather than use the "blogger" platform.

The good news is, it's still possible to follow the blog by email. The bad news is that you actually have sign-up all over again. If you've entered your email address once before, you'll have to follow these steps and do that one more time for us. We promise to make it worth your while!

Here's how you can subscribe to all future blog posts from us.

1. Navigate to our website
(We'll post the link one more time for you at the end of these instructions). 

2. Subscribe! 
When you get to the blog you will actually see two possible email sign-ups. 
One is for our newsletter which we try to send out every other month. It's located on the left. The other, for blog posts only, is in the top right corner. 

It's that easy! Thanks for taking the time to read this short update from us. Hope to see you all back in our subscriber list. We love your feedback and support.

Until next time. :)


Here's that link as promised: 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bees and Yogurt! Are you ready for it?

There’s a lot of things that are really exciting about Second Mile. The fact that this organization is poised to provide services to a demographic that is already extremely under-served is already amazing.  That it does so in such a thorough and holistic way is even more amazing.  I suspect, however, that you are all already in agreement with me on this point… you all read the blog and follow the updates because you, also, are excited about the work that is being done at the center of this organization.  Which is why I want to tell you a little bit about the equally amazing things that are happening more on the periphery and also about some of the things that are still being developed and why they are just as important to the central mission of Second Mile.  

From the time SM opened its doors, one of its primary objectives has been self-sufficiency/sustainability.  In short, the objective is to have as little reliance on outside funds as possible so that we can continue our work (and continue to pay our 20+ Haitian employees) regardless of how much is donated from month-to-month.  

For example, our land is completely supplied with power through our solar panels.  This simple fact means that we don’t have to spend money on gas every month to run a generator.  Also, the entire salary of our gardeners is paid for by the commerce generated from selling the produce we grow.  Not to mention that we have to spend less money on food from week to week because we grow our own.  The list goes on – cows supply milk for the formula we make on site for the children in recovery, chickens supply eggs that are sold to pay for more salaries.  

All of this means that the money that is donated can be directed to things other than day-to-day operations: medicine, hospital visits, further development of our current resources, etc.  That’s important to us, and it helps to insure that the work we are doing here can continue for as long as it’s needed.  
The bees have settled in (they haven’t ‘swarmed’ for those of you familiar with the beekeeping speak) and have been working industriously over the last several weeks.  Our next step is to build more boxes for our bees to expand into – a necessary step before we can begin harvesting honey and wax from the hives.  In the meantime, we are learning as much as we can about the art of beekeeping, training our employees, and working on acquiring the required tools (more of that in a bit).  
Bees are really amazing, and part of what’s so great about them is that they require little to no intervention.  The applications are, for the most part, fairly obvious.  Aside from the added benefit of having thousands of little workers pollinating our land, we will eventually be able to sell the honey they produce in the markets (and to visitors).  Beeswax is another useful commodity here – a primary ingredient in candle making and soap making, this bi-product gives us the opportunity to branch into these cottage industries ourselves, or to partner with a variety of small organizations that are already doing this work in the area. 
Obviously this project carries a lot of potential and we’re so excited to see where it goes, but we’re not quite there yet.
This project is really promising – the overhead is low, and the process is simple.  Once we’ve established a system for consistent production, we can teach the process to the cooks on the land, which they in turn can fold into their weekly schedule.  
Of course, we’ve also had upsets with this project: since we buy our milk from small producers in the village, the consistency of milk quality is variable.  Sometimes it is watered down, and sometimes it has simply gone to long without refrigeration, causing it to separate more easily in the production process.  But these setbacks have been really minor, especially when compared to the potential this program has to be a consistent source of income for SM.  
Now you know what we’ve been cooking up over the last few weeks.  These are projects that we are really excited about, both for their simplicity and for their potential to make Second Mile Haiti a more financially stable and sustainable program.  But we’re not there yet (yes, this is the part that we in the non-profit world call, ‘the ask’).  Both of these projects need some basic things in order to start them off right and make them sustainable.  
For the bees and honey, we need some basic bee-keeping supplies:
All of these can be found on our Amazon wish list (along with many other things…)  In addition, we are also looking to purchase a hive centrifuge (the tool used for extracting honey from the comb), which is not available on Amazon.  The centrifuge itself costs $299, plus an additional $150 for shipping and customs.  
If you would like to make a donation toward any of these materials, you can do so on our donation page! Also, if you’re a closet expert on beekeeping or yogurt making, and have tips or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.  

To that end, we are always developing small ‘sustainability-projects’ to diversify our income and pay our people’s salaries.  Two of these projects are ready to get off the ground and swing into full launch.  I want to tell you a little bit about both of them, and then tell you how you can help us to get them off the ground.  

Bees and Honey

About five weeks ago, SM purchased four bee boxes (complete with bees) and set them up to do their magical work on our flowering land.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the land literally hums with their activity.  The acquisition of these bee boxes was step one of a more long-term plan to start honey and wax commerce on our land, and eventually, in our community.  

Another project we’ve been playing with is yogurt production.  While it sounds immensely impressive, yogurt is an incredibly easy product to make and can, for the most part, be done with nothing more than milk, started (i.e. yogurt) and basic kitchen equipment (if you like yogurt and have never tried making your own, I recommend you ‘google’ “how to make yogurt” and give it a try!).  

Over the last several weeks we’ve been experimenting with and perfecting this process and brainstorming our basic business plan for selling it.  The numbers are promising.  In short, with the production of just two gallons of yogurt a week, we could cover the salaries for two of our people and still set enough aside to purchase several more cows in our first year.  

What’s Needed

  • Bee keeper suit + gloves
  • Hive tool
  • Capping knife
  • Bee smoker
  • Bee feeders

We also need a few key things for our yogurt production:

  • Jars for canning

Yogurt culture 

Again, you can find these on our wishlist.  We also need a lactometer, an instrument used  for measuring the purity of milk (watered down milk doesn’t seem to make very good yogurt).  This item is a little tricky to get a hold of and will cost us approximately $80 with shipping and customs.  

We want to thank Armen Rashidyan for writing this post! Armen is currently in Haiti and is acting as our resident guru in yogurt production. He's doing all sorts of great work for Second Mile (take this blog post for example) and we're lucky enough to have him for few more months.

with them

On Wednesday we had something happen for the very first time in our facility.
It's something we hope we don't have to experience very often or even, not at all.
Sweet Youvenx passed away.

Youvenx came to us just about a week ago.  Youvenx was extremely fragile.
We planned for him to go to the hospital the next day, and we were sure he
would be admitted. It really shocked us when he returned back to our facility 
the same day. It was clear that it wouldn't be an easy case. 

We were realistic about what he'd have to overcome to "make it."

On Wednesday morning I received a text at 5:05 am saying that Youvenx
passed away. I received another text from Dadou around 6:30 am saying
"Jenn, don't worry I am handling the situation." I was feeling very tired that day.
I had overslept and didn't see the text until 7:30 am in the morning.

Right away, I call Dadou. Unfortunately, I have experience when it comes to these 
situations. My first response to Dadou without even thinking is "have we started
making the coffin?" and then I said "I'm on my way."

I arrived at the facility just a little past 8 am. The facility was quiet. 
I'm not even sure any of the other kids made a noise all morning.
No one had to say anything at all but it was clear by how everyone
walked around the facility that everyone knew. No words needed
to be said.

I walked in Youvenx's room. He looked so sweet and innocent. 

Dadou arrived 10 minutes after I did with Youvenx's mom. He had already 
taken her to see some of her relatives, and to have the death certificate made.
The total cost of all paperwork was $5.25.

She told us that she wanted to have him buried in the local cemetery in the village.

So everyone went to work preparing for this funeral.

Wilner, our newly hired boss, starting building the coffin. I am afraid to even ask how
many coffins he has built in his life time.

Verdieu, our onsite prayer warrior, hovered over Youvenx's mom. He spit out prayers and comforting

Kerline and Prestina, health-staff, prepared the clothes.

Ama, our wise leader, gave pep talks to the other moms and employees.

Dadou, our Director, made all the arrangements for the cemetery. 

And I went to work preparing Youvenx for burial. I was in charge of bathing him, putting
his clothes on, and laying him in the coffin. It's not a role that any of my staff said I had to do but
I needed to do it.

The entire time in my head I just kept thinking about how it all seemed so surreal. 
I stopped keeping track after 15, of how many sweet bodies I have seen like Youvenx.
I kept thinking how it's different back home, and how many of my friends and family
never would be involved in nor would they even know what this process looked like. 
I kept thinking about my experiences in Haiti, and how sad it is that I am used to this.
I kept thinking how it's sad that I know exactly what needs to be done.

I laid Youvenx softly in the coffin and kissed his head once more. The staff joined
me in the room and started singing hymns and praying over the sweet boy.
The mom entered the room to say good-bye to her sweet boy for the very last time.

And then the sound that always gets me….. the nailing on the coffin. The closure.

And now it's time to head to the cemetery. Dadou takes the coffin on my motorcycle 
and Verdieu, Ama, Wilner, Prestina, Kerline, and Youvenx's mom jump on the remaining
two motorcycles that we had at the facility. 

I stayed at the facility. I already had my peace. 

Everyone returned just about an hour later. 

In just 2 and 1/2 hour's time this process had been completed which is also mind-blowing to me.

Dadou told me he was going to take Youvenx's mom home and talk to the family.
He already decided that Youvenx's mom would have a rendezvous the following week so
we could see how she is holding up and assess what we  might be able to do on our part to make 
sure she still has a chance to go through the business program. Youvenx was about 2 years old but she still has a baby girl. 

The rest of the day was beautiful. My office is upstairs and it overlooks the entire compound.
I saw worship happening all over the place. The cooks were singing over the meals they were cooking.
The moms were huddled in circles singing to each other while peeling corn. Some of our other employees were huddled in the sewing room praying.

They prayed in that room for 2 hours. I couldn't stop thinking about how it was a beautiful way to usher the sweet boy onward. 

I wanted to write this blog post to express my appreciation for the people I work with. It's times like these where I just can't stop thanking God for creating and then selecting these wonderful people for this work. 
And since we tend to not really write about the hard stuff I wanted to take the opportunity to share it in the only way I know how, by sharing the part of it that is was beautiful, the coming together of people I love to support a family in a time of need. 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Urgent Needs

If you've ever wanted to learn more about how Second Mile cares for kids and families this is the blog post for you. And if you ever wanted to know why we/they depend on your support this will be a good post to read, just beware of a few tough images towards the end.

If you were on Facebook yesterday than maybe you saw the status we posted last night with this photo. 

We were really excited because from the 6 moms that went home last weekend and came back to Second Mile on Monday all 8 of their children gained weight. Now wait, before you go around telling people I'm bad at math, let me clarify. Two of the moms had two kids each. That's 6 + 1 + 1. You may be wondering what about the others? Didn't you just have a full house and now you're suddenly down to 6?!

Actually yes. We did recently have an almost full house. Our current capacity is 12 women and at the time of our last blog post, earlier this month, we had 11. Two of those children were at the hospital on Monday. One has been discharged and came back to Second Mile today. That's good news. The other good news is that 3 of the moms "graduated." That is, their children reached a healthy weight around the time that they finished all of their health education objectives and completed a business plan. They all learned how to plant things and what to do when their children are sick. Two of those moms were regulars in the literacy program which has been bumped up to 90 minutes of class every evening. These moms were writing and essentially reading by the end...

It was a happy day sending them home.

Shenaida, the little girl (age 18 months), came to us as a referral from Hôpital Sacré Coeur in the town of Milot (just 15 minutes from our site). She was admitted to the hospital with kwashiorkor-type severe malnutrition and was held for 15 days before she was discharged. The family lives just a 10 minute walk from our facility. Initially it was Shenaida's mom that came with her to Second Mile but she had to leave mid-week due to ill-health. The hospital stay and many sleepless nights had worn on her immune system. The family decided that Shenaida's aunt would take her place. It was a fine solution. The aunt lives in the same house as Shenaida and her mother so she would be able to transmit information easily to Shenaida's mom and could continue helping with her care over the weekends. The aunt is the oldest sister in their family and definitely has "caretaker" in her blood.

She was an amazing interim mama for Shenaida. They stayed for a total of 25 days at Second Mile. During that time she lost the remaining edema, battled some bouts of diarrhea, and worked to gain appetite, weight, and red blood cells.

day 1 at Second Mile- some swelling remaining in the legs, abdomen, and face
during - Shenaida's auntie helps her eat Mamba
leaving Second Mile - 4/25 - healthy girl
The key part of this story is that Shenaida was referred by the hospital. She got initial care there. There were blood tests and IV fluids and key interventions that happened initially, before we entered the picture. We don't have a true "before" picture because she was stabilized at the hospital, right where she needed to be. Severe Acute Malnutrition is not a game. Although it's fun to watch children improve and to know that a smile here and a cry there signal certain improvements, but we don't take little lives into our hands without the serious consideration. Part of that decision-making process is getting information about where the child is coming from and what kind of care he or she has already had. With each case we have to decide whether or not the child's condition requires a higher level of care and monitoring than we would be able to provide.

Most cases are simple. Take these sample cases for example. We admit a child after a referral from a partner organizations that oversees HIV positive children country-wide. They have recently discovered that the child is HIV+. We know that she is scheduled to begin anti-retroviral drugs at hospital A on a particular date and that they expect her back at this particular date for her next follow-up appointment and at any moment that her condition worsens.

Or, we admit a child that spent many months in a infant formula program at local creche. The mother brings the child back to the creche and they see that he is showing worsening signs of malnutrition. His legs have begun to swell. The referral is made because the creche case workers have been working with the family for months have identified some major concerns in terms of the mother's knowledge of nutrition and hygiene.

Or, we receive a child right after he has been seen by a doctor at rural village clinic 45 minutes away. The doctor plans to personally drive the child and mother out to our site that afternoon. She has know the child for many months and though she sends Medika Mamba with the mother every single week the child has not gained weight. He has no complications but the doctor thinks that mom needs to be taught how to feed her son. The child has cerebral palsy.

All three children have severe malnutrition.

In these situations we jump in. We begin to learn about the mother and child and how we can help support them with and through the health care systems and resources around us and in collaboration with these partner organizations.

There are other cases though, whom we meet, who don't come from a hospital, a doctor, or another program.

Like this child, who arrived with her dad yesterday evening.

Or this baby who arrived this morning.

This is where you come in. Hang with me.

We do not have a lab. We do not have a staff doctor. We do not even have an evening nurse. That level of care is not a part of our mission. Why? Because of hospitals like Hôpital Sacré Coeur--with trained pediatricians, state of the art laboratory facilities, and compassionate administrators. 

Our goal is to work with the local hospitals and health centers, not to replace the care they can offer.

Also, our goal is to empower mothers. Part of that is the sharing of information so that they feel equipped to make decisions about their child's health. So we made the decision not to have health staff during the night. Children that require round the clock monitoring need to be at the hospital anyway (which I will explain in a moment). Instead, we teach the moms how to respond to common problems. And while this is typically a pretty intuitive skill, we make sure that one of the first lessons we share with moms is the difference between ailments that require a trip to the clinic and the kinds of emergencies that merit a rapid trip to a well-equipped hospital. Every mom at Second Mile knows who to get in touch with if an emergency trip to the hospital ever became necessary. To-date, that's never been an issue but that's also because we really try to make referrals early and often. Our nurses are trained to assess the children and refer to the appropriate place, even before they spend a night at our center. We want the moms to understand how to use their local health centers and to be comfortable doing so. It's really important. After a stay in the hospital we continue with the family right where we left off.

For the out-of-the blue cases that come to us with no previous interface with healthcare personel we want to make sure we cover our bases and offer the child the highest chance of survival. With each critical case we ask the question, would a Haitian pediatrician decide to admit this child to an inpatient ward? And really the only true way to make that judgement call is to give the family an opportunity to go for a consultation with a pediatrician at the hospital.

The issue is not whether or not the mother can afford hospital care. The issue is whether the child needs it. And like I said before that's where you come in.

We know that sometimes the parents don't completely understand what malnutrition is and what is truly causing their child's ill health. If they did, would they have gone for help sooner? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Money is one of the major barriers to seeking care.

Today's blog post is a plee for help. We would very much like the opportunity to support the two families pictured above, and others like them. But to do so, we need to have healthcare sponsors. That is, we need to have a fund specifically to pay for medical care for cases of this severity. At our local hospital a typical hospital stay of 1 week is about $125 USD. We would like to get 5 sponsors of $100/month to meet this urgent need.

If you can help, please do. Even $15 dollars a month could make a difference.

Our hope is that one day, when these families have wonderfully productive businesses they will be able to go to a health center each and every time their kid is in need.

You can help break the cycle.

To make a donation click here. It is possible to set up a recurring donation through our website which can be made weekly, monthly, bi-monthy...etc. Second Mile Ministries is a 501c3 non-profit. Donations are tax-deductible.

Friday, April 11, 2014

And then there were 11

Well hello there. How are you? 

It feels like we haven't posted in a long time! I hope you got our newsletter in your email. If you didn't you can sign up for our e-newsletter on the website or view it here

So much has been happening here in Haiti, it's hard to know where to begin! Most days are either really hard or really exciting. Every day is full. Those of you who have been following since the beginning have seen Second Mile grow from the ground up. You heard from us during our first 3 months when we were sharing our vision in the States and stuck with us during the next four months of getting our bearings in Haiti. You watched us (and helped us) buy land and spend a full year building the facility, pushing ahead with construction only so long as we had the funds. Then on Mother's Day 2013 we opened our doors and started to walk alongside our first mother.

Can you believe it? On Mother's Day 2014 we will have been functioning for one year! 
Wow... it sure feels like it's been longer than a year... 

We still follow-up with the very first moms. Their children are doing very well and many still have thriving businesses. Those that don't, are still making it work somehow. Their not-so-successful business ventures have helped our business program director come up with better ways to get moms on their feet and to help them succeed even though the odds aren't stacked in their favor. All the moms that stuck through the recovery program are still bringing in healthy children for follow-up visits. That means that not only are their children alive, they also aren't living in an orphanage or institution. Those statistics are pretty good right now. We know we will encounter harder, more challenging cases in the future where family preservation actually won't be the best solution. But if the first year has been any indication of what's to come, then those cases will be few and far between. There have have been just 2 women that weren't capable of staying at our facility and caring for their children there. These kids were referred to another program. And there was one child whose father pulled her and her step-mother out of our program because a visiting group of short term missionaries, without knowing exactly where she was, told her that they were the ones helping his daughter and that she didn't need to be anywhere else. I could insert something here about why that kind of stunt will give short term visitors a bad rep among those who are working to find sustainable solutions for families in poverty but I think I'll skip it today. ;) 

Not including the three cases I just mentioned, we've worked with 26 mothers and have nutritionally rehabilitated 30 children.  And guess what! 

We still love moms.

 We are still passionate about empowering women. 
And we still believe in caring for mothers of malnourished babies in this unique way. We are still doing the same ol' things but it looks a lot different with so many more women in the mix! 
Our process is still to come alongside women during their child's health crisis, offering a place of recovery, nurturing that mother-child bond, and offering educational and skills training opportunities through which women can begin to bring themselves further away from that scary place where their kids are experiencing undernutrition, hunger, and illness. 

I've spent a lot of time with our photos lately. We have got to get our act together and share some of the amazing images with you. I hate to admit it, but we don't even have a single page on our website that shows what we actually do, now, present-tense. The pages on our website that describe our facility were written when Second Mile was just a dream of an idea. That's got to change! Until it does, this small photo collection will have to serve as an update. We've chosen the photos that reveal moments of hope, courage, and joy. As you linger on these photos and read their captions I hope you will consider what improved health, empowerment through education, and new economic opportunities can do for women in Haiti. 

Baby Daniel had his first follow-up visit. Way to go mom, he gained weight during his first week back at home!
The moms participate in an infant massage class taught by our health educator Ms. Kerline
Ms. Kerline is a newly certified Infant Massage Instructor

Using infant massage to connect with their babies and have some fun. 

Helping a new mom adjust. 
The women gather around a mom who will spend her first night at Second Mile.
Natalie and Mom. No one else can make her smile that big. These two recently concluded their stay at Second Mile. 
Kerline works with a new mom while two babies play in the background.  Their moms are over in the education building sitting in on one of their final business classes before they "graduate" and leave Second Mile at the end of the week.
Morning weights.

Friday. Waiting for the final weight of the week.

Around 8 am each morning, the moms mosey into the clinic gallery and chat with one another while Ms. Prestina (nurse) weighs the children one by one and takes their measurements. For most of the children the goal is to gain weight. But for the children that come to us with swollen limbs [a sign of acute malnutrition], weight loss is actually an indicator that the child is making good progress.  The child below is a good example. He was admitted with swollen limbs and face. We began by teaching the mother how to make [and administer] a special stabilization formula of therapeutic milk. The formula is made using sugar, oil, milk, water, and cereal flour in amounts set to offer precisely the right nutrients and calories to stabilize him without any adverse effects. At first the milk was given in small volumes (according to his weight) every 2 hours, then he graduated to every 3 hours, and eventually every 4 hours. His mother was the one giving him each milk feed. Her happiness, and his, is truly a byproduct of much patience and perseverance.  

Edlin lost all his edema in the first 10 days. He is now eating Medika Mamba 

Moms are involved and hugely invested in their child's progress. Many of the moms remember their child's weight from day to day. They are empowered to think critically and troubleshoot feeding method, or timing, or hydration.
8 month old Judeline. 8.5 lbs. Week 2 at Second Mile. 
1 year old Estherline making great progress. 
Esther and mom. 
Walking back from a morning business course. 
The facility is set up so that moms can always be close by their kids whether that means taking them to classes or letting them sleep with another mom nearby. This helps the kids gets meds and feedings right when they need them no matter what else is going on. 

Above- mom takes her health education post-test. Her daughter is well and she's about to leave our program so she answers questions about the topics that were covered during her stay. She describes concepts of child and maternal health, nutrition, and disease prevention and proves that she's heading back to her community with a lot to share.
In the photo below, a mom requests that photos be taken to commemorate her daughters 1st birthday. 
Speaking of birthdays, $3,800 was raised during our recent Birthday Fundraiser. A sincere thank you to those who donated.


An older brother follows mom to "school."

Evening Literacy Class.

Goats get brought in for the evening.

Playtime with mom.

The family bond stays strong. 18 month old, Shanai, sits in the clinic with her aunt. They get some quiet time away from the other moms and babies and Shanai gets to finish her sachet of Medika Mamba.

This last photo is what it's all about --  How can you empower a mother to care for her vulnerable child if that child is in an orphanage? How does she learn to apply life-saving behaviors (like giving oral rehydration fluids when her child has diarrhea), if mom and baby aren't together? This mom is 18. The mom next to her is 17. The mom next to her is also 18. It's just a coincidence that the young mothers sat together in the back row and all the women in the front are much older. The point is that the young mothers aren't done learning. The older mothers aren't either. I can't quite get what's happening in this photo into words, but it's good and it's powerful.

A mom sits in literacy class with her baby and a pitcher of oral rehydration fluid which she made earlier in the morning when the baby first began to have diarrhea. Next to her notebook is a piece of paper where she is keeping track of how much the baby drinks. All the moms at Second Mile learn how to make oral rehydration solution and the importance of giving fluids when your child is sick. They get hands on practice if their child has episodes while they are at the facility. Worldwide, diarrhea is responsible for more childhood deaths than any other cause.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Birthdays

26 and 27. Now I know what you are probably thinking. You girls are getting too old to be fussing over birthdays. Birthday fun is meant for 6- and 10-year olds. And really, if you insist on grown-up birthday fun, it should be reserved for the sacred years of 30, 40, and 50. Notice I left out the infamous 21st birthday? Yes, I may finally be old enough to recognize that twenty-one, is not a grown-up age.

Jokes aside. I want you to hang with me. All this fussing is for a good cause. 

I have a few things to tell you about birthdays. And you can get to know us a little, while we're at it.

Among the expats in Haiti, which Jenn and I belong to for obvious reasons, 'birthday' is less of a noun and more of an action verb. I think it might be because those participating in the birthday festivities are equal parts happy to have a reason to gather and cognizant of the fact that even though our friendships are young and our ties are loose, we are a rag-tag family for whatever length of time we will all be living in Haiti. And families need to celebrate each other's birthdays. 

There have been pancake breakfasts, midnight teas, and no shortage of dance parties. There was this one party where a Haitian party guest brought goat soup which I’m sure is typically delicious but on this night I was distracted by the goat’s skull that sat in the middle of the serving tray. Garnish, I suppose. It was a feast to remember! There was another time when our neighbor was presented with a hand-made Owl piñata at her surprise party. It was made by her crafty roommate in Papier Mâché, pronounced "papper mAh-chay," emphasis on the ‘Ah' (because the birthday girl was British). Classic, yet oh-so original. This party will be remembered for generations (which in expat terminology is roughly 2 years). 

We live in this weird community of people who are nothing alike yet have everything in common. It’s an apartment complex of sorts, unique in that, aside from a handful of Haitian exceptions, everyone who lives here hails from another place...Pakistan, Ghana, India, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland... and New York City. I’ve never experienced anything like it except college, which was much less diverse. It really is a great set-up for potlucks, networking, and birthday parties. It’s also perfect for community composting and borrowing each other’s baking dishes, but that’s not my point. 

So what will I do for my birthday? Well, if you and I do not know each other personally, then we best get this one thing out on the table. I, Amy Syres, am the epitome of introverted.  

It should be no surprise to you dear reader, that I have never had a birthday party in my adult life. Now, if we do know each other, than don’t you dare get any ideas; I intend to continue this trend so please, PLEASE do not throw me one. It would put a serious strain on our friendship. Plus, come party time, I would just retreat to my room lock the door and hide under my yoga mat, thoroughly embarrassing myself, and you. So don’t bother.

Instead I think we may go out to dinner on Friday and/or enjoy one of the several brunch spots in Cap Haitien on Saturday morning. We can pretend it’s like any other weekend and it will make me very happy to slip by this calendar day without too much fuss. 

I will however, shamelessly commemorate the advent of my 27th year with a trip to the Tourist Market. This wonderful place is the spot where we take visitors to buy metal lizards and braided yarn bracelets with ‘Haiti’ inscribed on their faces. There you will find no shortage of artisans and vendors pushing handmade dresses and painted wooden figurines from the mouths of their overflowing shops while saying things like “it’s free to look” and “come inside, very cheap price!” It’s also the place where you will find me at Christmas, and New Years, and Valentine’s Day and the first day of Summer, absolutely exploiting these “holidays” in order to justify a moderate offloading of cash and an excessive uploading of stuff.  I just love me some metal art and some carved trinkets! Really, I do. You should see our house. 

At least when it’s my birthday Jenn usually buys the items for me which makes me feel only slightly better about the splurge.

Jenn is my opposite. While I light up at the thought of a woven basket and a quiet brunch, Jenn likes to spend her special day surrounded by people (fun people); the more the merrier. 

April 1st 2014 will mark no less than three birthday taco nights for miss Jenn. 

No joke. ;)

Much like the April 1st of 2012 and the April 1st of 2013 there will be zesty margaritas and homemade salsa. Once something has been fun or tasty the first time, Jenn’s sure to look forward to the same places, people, and treats in subsequent years. She loves tradition. Like gluten free chocolate chip cookie cake for dessert. Which reminds me, dear neighbors, we best do our best to find some decorating icing-preferably blue and green-- because Jenn really loved her cookie cake last year…For Jenn, the closest we can get to a duplicate extravaganza, the better. 

She loves to be in the middle of a crowd...revving the conversation, serving the drinks, making sure people are fed. There’s a feast, but she forgets to eat. Girl loves her birthday. 

Now, I have been going on and on about birthdays for awhile now. I mean I’m generally pretty wordy but this has been down right excessive—on purpose. I wanted to make a point to convey that yes, although we will be turning an awkward 26 and 27 years old, Jenn and I really are making a deal, even if it isn’t a big deal, about our birthdays. And truth is, these two days won’t look very different than they did at 23, 24, and 25. Nonetheless, we commemorate. 

And I’m guessing that you do too.

While you read, I wanted you to think about your own birthday. And about how you help others celebrate theirs. Do you have a bad habit of spending too much on not-needed birthday gifts for people? Or like me, too much on yourself? Do you have kids? How do they like to celebrate? What are your traditions? 

I hoped you would think about how it feels to age and how it feels to celebrate the life of the people you love. 

It really is a big deal you know, a year in time. 

Marie Ange turned two while she and her mom were at our facility. I wonder how many people doubted that she would live to see that day. We didn’t do anything special on that day, not even a birthday crown or a piece of cake. Although we should have. I think we were just really busy. When Marie Ange turned two she wasn’t out of the woods yet. She still looked like this. 

a few days before her 2nd birthday - back down to 9 lbs - readmitted to Second Mile

Up until this point she had only looked as good as the photo below, taken 6 weeks earlier on the day that Marie Ange and her mom left for home, after their first 8 weeks of recovery at Second Mile. At 21 months old and 12 lbs she was still fragile. A few weeks later a nasty bout of diarrhea caused her to plummet back down to an emaciated 9 lbs. 

I wonder what was going through her mom’s mind on that day September 10th 2013, her 2nd birthday. If instead of rejoicing, she was thinking about all the ups and downs...the uncertainty. 

July, going home 2 months older and 3 lbs heavier.
Starting in September we did another 8 weeks of 'recovery and empowerment' and a second-chance business.
Now Marie Ange looks like this. 
Not bad, hey?

taken January 2014 - 2 month's after going home - a follow up visit
It's been 4 months since Marie Ange and her mom left Second Mile. She's made it halfway to her 3rd birthday. Her mom seems happy, appears healthy, and as has a successful business. She even has love in her life and a baby on the way, a planned and wanted pregnancy. I just get this feeling that she will be celebrating, actually celebrating Marie Ange’s 3rd birthday. In true Haitian tradition there will likely be a fancy new dress and a ‘#3' themed photo shoot. 

If there is, we will probably be given one of the prints. I will then ask mom if I can post the photo here, so that everyone who has been a part of Marie Ange’s story, everyone who has given to Second Mile, and to those of you who play a role in manufacturing Medika Mamba and to those who are donating it for this very reason, will be able to see your impact.

And now it’s time to talk about how we hope to make this birthday fundraiser about more birthdays. We are asking you to give to Second Mile Haiti so that moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, can usher their children into each new year of life with an added measure of certainty. Of course nothing is certain, every day and every hour of life is a precious gift. There are just certain things, which I believe shouldn't have to be so uncertain. Tragic accidents and terminal illness aside, mothers everywhere should be able to rest in the security of daily food for her children, clean water for drinking, and the means to obtain medication when her children are sick. 

We see a lot of moms for whom this isn’t the reality…they don’t always have food, they can’t always afford clean drinking water, and they aren’t sure what to do about sickness because the hospital is far and the fees are too much. 

They aren't sure about much of anything, except that they love their kids. We are trying to change these uncertain parts for one family at a time, starting with one malnourished child at a time. 

On a personal level, we rally behind the groups and individuals who are championing causes and campaigns which aim to change the systems of inequality and injustice that collide to make it nearly impossible for impoverished Haitian women and the children of impoverished Haitian families to rise and stand. We hope for a breaking of these chains and a surge of employment and improved human rights for all. And while we are hoping and collaborating and advocating to these ends, our little organization- Second Mile Haiti- takes up a little space with a few women who are actually hurting now, whose children are actually on the brink of that first or second birthday. 

We are little, but we have big goals. We believe that in order for a child to remain successfully healthy families must 1) know how to keep their child healthy and 2) have the means and resources to do so. 

In Haiti approximately 77% of the population live on less than $2/day. 80% of the adult population are unemployed. And their children? 1 in 14 Haitian children will not live to see her 5th birthday. 

Our starting point is women who do not have a stable income, most of whom did not enjoy the privilege of secondary education (or even primary education in many cases) and most of whom did not have the luxury of choosing when and under what circumstances they became mothers. 

And as if that doesn't sound problematic enough, they have a sick baby and a handful of older children who will always be on the verge of illness unless their nutrition improves. 

What we do costs money. 
But it’s worth it. Don’t you think? 

Marie Ange (18 months) - May 2013 - First day at Second Mile
You can partner with us! Now, during our birthday weeks. In two weeks (starting today and ending April 2nd) we would like to raise at least $10,000 to support our efforts and get on good financial footing for the coming months. 

There's no magic number to give but we do have some [fun, because it's a fun-draiser after all] birthday related suggestions. 

Donate the cost of a birthday card, we don’t have a mailbox anyway. ;)  

Donate the amount of your age or your children’s ages.

Donate the year of your birthday ('88, '63, '54--the older you are, the cheaper it is!)

Donate what you would spend on yourself at your next birthday, 

or the cost of a party, or a fancy dinner.

Or just give- generously- because your gifts mean more birthdays for children in Haiti. 

Donate because you have birthday traditions. And they don’t yet. 

Donate because you tend to spend too much on the frivolous while parents in Haiti are borrowing money to bury their children because they didn’t have money for food. 

Remember the goal is more birthdays! We can make a difference for one family at a time. 

Donate now and often.
Online or by check.  
These families thank you. 

For more information about Second Mile please read some of the previous blog posts, or visit our website and have a look around. 

our mailing address:
Second Mile Ministries
5251 W. Desert Falcon Ln. 
Tucson, AZ