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, January 27, 2014

a "relaxed" Jenn

It has been a long time since I have written. Where do I even begin? Amy left Haiti on January 1st for two weeks. We decided very last minute that it would be a very timing for her to visit her family, and so she did. 

So despite my blog post title, "A relaxed Jenn" I was not very relaxed during these two weeks.

While she was gone Dadou and I took Loudjina to Port au Prince to get a CT scan and see if she could be a potential candidate for surgery. Loudjina is 18 month old with a condition called hydrocephalus. She has a build up of fluid in and around her brain. We met her 3 months ago. She and her mother stayed at Second Mile (during the normal Monday through Friday program) for 8 weeks. During this time we provided dressing changes for the four large pressure ulcers that had developed on Loudjina's head. We also worked to empower Loudjina's mom who was pregnant at the time with business and health education. Eventually she became very comfortable and skilled at changing Loudjina's dressings on her own. After we met Loudjina we contacted the only surgical program for children with hydrocephalus in Haiti and were instructed to bring her for a consultation in January.

So that's what we did. Let's just say that day ranks as one of my top 10 least favorite days of all time. We picked Loudjina and her grandma up early in the morning, 3 AM to be exact. We arrived at Bernard Mevs hospital in PAP around 8 AM. We made great time getting all the way from Cap Haitien to Port au Prince in 5 hours. Did you know that 3 years ago it used to be an 8 hour drive? See…Haiti is improving. The nurse that is in charge of the hydrocephelus program didn't arrive until 11 AM. That meant that Loudjina, and her grandma and I sat waiting for 3 hours. It would never be any big deal to sit with your average baby for 3 hours but Loudjina is not your average baby. Her head weighs close to 25-30 lbs (I am completely guessing here) so you can imagine how awkward it is to hold her for 3 hours. It's like an arm work-out., for um, 3 hours. This is not what made it one of my least favorite days. What made it one of my least favorite days was all the staring and comments that were directed towards Loudjina. People would say things like, "how is she not dead?" or "why did you not abandon her?" or "why is she not in an orphanage?" And when people stare here…they stare hard.

Loudjina and her mom, at there home, a few days before the trip
In fact, people will walk up and stand a foot away and just stare. I timed one of the stares and it lasted a full 78 seconds. Can you imagine, a 78 second stare from a person standing only a foot away? The nurses and doctors asked me several times why I didn't get her to PAP months ago, because the program for hydrocephelus is free. Over and over I had to tell them we just met Lovelie 3 months ago and started seeking medical attention the day we met her. I know how they feel though. I am irritated too.

Loudjina's family has known about the program ever since Loudjina was 3 months old and they took her there. We were told that she even received surgery at the time but that they never returned for follow-up because they didn't have the money to make the trip to PAP. That's frustrating and sad. I would have gladly handed over the bus ticket cost of $30 to get her to PAP a year ago, and just like that her head would be 25-30 lbs lighter. So the whole situation is frustrating. We left later that day after the nurse told us she would send the CT scan to the surgeons who are coming in 2 weeks.  They would decide if they could operate. The nurse told me to go ahead and make arrangements for Loudjina to head back to PAP on the Jan 17th., two weeks later. So we did. Loudjina, her dad, and her grandma all went back this past Friday. They spent two night in Port au Prince but the surgeons decided that nothing could be done. It was too involved. There is not a whole lot we can do now except love on this girl, check on her pressure wounds and make sure mom has all the supplies she needs to keep the wounds clean and healing. And we can pray for her family. I really want to thank everyone for keeping her in your thoughts and prayers. And a special thanks to the people that made donations towards the cost of travel. By the way, the reason Loudjina's mom didn't travel to Port-au-Prince is because she just had a C-section a few days before. She delivered a healthy baby boy.

In the two weeks Amy was gone, the PAP trip was the only day I was not at the land. I wanted to spend this time to really work on our existing and future sustainability projects. I gave this pep talk/speech to our gardeners:

I don't know how long God plans for me to be here. I can not show up everyday and have my main focus be on the gardens. I do not want to be the one to tell you to plant this and that and when to plant. We need to think about 3 things:
  1. We need to always have produce to make meals for our moms and babies
  2. We need to plan and rotate our crops more efficiently (so that we always have produce to make meals) 
  3. We need to remember that sales from the gardens is what gives us a chance to hire more people!
So, I put a solid two weeks into training my new "side kick" Joseph. Joseph has been working with us since April 2012. He is now head gardner and is in charge of 4 other staff members. First things first. We solved an on-going problem with the irrigation system. Did I mention we were going on 56 days without rain? Yep, it was a stressful time. Joseph and I sat down and devised plans for rotating crops and inter-cropping plants. We picked seeds and decided how and when everything would be planted over the next 6 months. I really worked with him on leadership skills and managing people effectively so we can accomplish a lot of work in a short time. Because of the donations that came in the month of December we are now working with an additional 1.5-2 acres of gardening land. We were able to hire 20 part time employees during this new "garden-facelift" and we hired 2 more full-time staff members. It's always fun to hire people. It may be one of my favorite things in the entire world. 

the new gardening space (to the right of the fence)

Jenn, Joseph, middle (black shirt), with some of the other employees

Today Joseph made my day. I asked him when he had decided to plant sorghum. I expected him to have picked a day, sometime in the upcoming week. 

He responded, "I already planted them on Monday."
I asked him if we would be able to plant the next acre of corn and beans in two weeks? He said the land will be completely tilled by Friday and everything will be planted by Saturday.
Again, simply amazing.
I gave him praises up and down today. Sure I was a little hard on him during the last two weeks, but boy am I glad I was. Today he thanked me for showing him how to manage employees. He said, "I think I think like you now." That's a little funny that I have someone wanting to think like me. I am not sure I even want to think like me, but I will take it has a small compliment. 

Joseph, working into the afternoon

I have also invested a lot of time in Dadou and Kerline (our community health worker) lately. I think they are really starting to become a team. It's amazing the decisions that are being made without me. Slowly but surely they are taking initiative and feeling comfortable in their roles. Amy has even been able to spend less time at the land because Kerline is becoming proficient in all of the skills and tasks she set up for her to do. She is admitting kids, monitoring kids, teaching moms at every opportunity, and continuing to hold health classes. She also stays in touch with all of the moms who have graduated from the program and tracks the children's weight and health. When we increase the number of moms we are admitting we will be able to hire a Kerline #2. At that point, we're confident that Kerline #1 will be able to train Kerline #2. It's a fabulous system. Of course, our next health worker probably won't be named Kerline, but we've been referring to this mystery person as Kerline #2 for some time now. 

It's nice. Our facility is getting closer and closer to running without the "blans" aka foreigners. 

 So maybe now you are starting to see why my blog title is called a "relaxed Jenn." Oh, and let's not forget that a  huge part of why I am so relaxed is because our entire Holiday Catalog was funded! It's always nice when I can just work and plan for projects without being stressed about funds. So, this "relaxed Jenn" is going to end this post feeling thankful, relieved, and excited about the future of Second Mile.

Here are a few more pictures from January. 
Joslin and Verdieu harvesting carrots, our dog "tutu" likes to be in the mix


hot peppers

neighbors came over to help with the green onion harvest, and to buy vegetables
a lone pumpkin
making new rows
planting Moringa trees

Saturday, January 4, 2014

a prayer update

A little update:

We'll call this update little, because truth is, I don't exactly know where I'm going with the post. I just thought it felt like time to write one. How do I know when it's time?... that's easy, it's a little tingling feeling you get at the back of your elbow. ;)

But seriously I'm writing on the blog which, as I have previously confessed, usually means I'm trying to  avoid some other less-pleasurable assignment. And true to form, I'm in the middle of writing a summary of 2013, something to print off and mail to those of you who were praying, and giving, and following this past year. But it's painful! Not because the year hasn't been amazing. It has! It's just that its nearly impossible to squeeze twelve months into two pages. It's hard to summarize a million meaningful moments; it's hard to simplify things that aren't simple.

The moms, their stories... The influence of extended families, the poverty, the triumph, the injustice, and the little glimmers of hope that tell us its all worth it, are what shape our perspective of 2013. But you weren't there and you might not understand the significance of that moment, that action, that word. So how do we do we convey the capacity of these women in the midst of hardship?

We think this work is making a difference, but how do we prove that to you?

How do we tell you how amazing it feels
... to see moms walk back into our gate after months at home, carrying children you would now never peg for being a"sick baby," much less a victim of severe malnutrition know that these moms are responsible for their children's good health, and that they are making it work -at home- on their own, see their joy and confidence know that Second Mile helped them realize their potential?

Hey maybe that's how I should start the 2013 letter. It feels amazing to see mothers walk back through our gates, carrying children that... 

And how can we possibly, adequately, thank all of you that have chosen to be a part of Second Mile this year? That's the biggest question of them all!

Jenn has databa-tized (it's a new word, i dare you to use it), all of the 473 individual donations we received online or by check this year. (Wow!) Everything is spreadsheet ready: names, addresses, and amounts donated. And I already bought all the goods to make tax-receipt preparation a smooth operation. I purchased the ink, and the stamps, the envelopes... well you get the picture. The busy work is actually all finished. Envelopes are addressed and stamped and it's borderline embarrassing to admit that, since the actual "letter" is far from finished.

At least the actual receipts are in progress.
But that glossy two-page insert we would like to include in your tax-receipts? Yeah... still working on it.

Blogging on the other hand? Much less pressure. Words can flow and can be patched together in any old way. What you get at the end is... well, what you get.

I'm hoping though, that talking about Second Mile and what's happening in Haiti as I type, will help get me in a groove and that I'll be able to produce a "Year in Review" san pwoblem.

So what's happening in Haiti?

Actually Jenn is in Haiti by herself. I am in Arizona. My family needed a visit, terribly. They were practically crying and begging me to come home. When they found out I wasn't coming home for Christmas (my first away in 26 years!) my brother sent a message that said, "WHHHHHYYY ARE YOUUUU ABANDONING USSSS!" True story. But actually they never did any begging. They wanted to see me, sure. But I also think Arizona is beautiful and the perfect place to get some R & R while also taking an opportunity to spend time with my superstar grandparents (ages 98, 90, and 88). I didn't make it home in time for Christmas but it seemed like good-sense to visit now, before we re-open our facility on January 13th.

We are currently in a doors-closed cycle. I don't know how else to call it. Twice a year we take a 3-week break to evaluate things, make sure we are approaching each situation in the best way possible, rotate the staff through a paid vacation schedule, rest and travel, and "fix what's broken."

For example, last year in July we closed down the facility to evaluate our "first two months." We decided to change the way we approached the moms businesses. Now, instead of receiving a $150 business on the day they leave, they receive a portion of goods worth a portion of that sum. Then as they demonstrate good judgement in business-related decisions and as they prove that they are investing their profits both into their child's recovery (i.e. the child is still gaining weight) and back into their business (i.e. the business is growing with new things we didn't initially give them), we make another investment into their business. Some moms have to show us that they are as invested as we are.

During this break Dadou (director, life-mentor, and teacher of the business courses) and Kerline (health educator, life-mentor, and community health agent) are visiting all 13 of the families, twice. Jenn is also really busy. She has had a ton of meetings and while managing things keeps her busy most of the time anyway, she's been extra busy trying to nail down a better crop rotation for the back gardens. She's my hero.

A few days ago we had a bit of a scare. We thought that Jiselle's little sister had died, the one that was born at Second Mile. We mourned the loss, tried not to dwell on what seemed like a failure, and accepted the death as a reality of life in Haiti. Then today, we learned that Kerline had misunderstood. Jiselle's newborn sister was well. The child that died was a neighbor of the family. You see, the moms that come through our program are well aware of the types of children we accept as cases. Before they leave, they understand the causes of malnutrition, what it looks like, and how to treat it. It's not uncommon for a mom to come back from a weekend at home with word about a child and mother they think needs our help. When they make recommendations they're usually right on. Jiselle's mom was unfortunately right in her assessment of this child's condition. A health agent from our partner organization saw the child and confirmed the referral. The child was severely malnourished and we had planned to bring the mom and baby in as soon as we re-opened on the 13th. But she didn't make it.

With the sad news came news of a mom in labor. Around here thats the type of news that fills you with a mix of fear and excitement. This morning I learned from Jenn that Loudjina's mom, Lovelie, the second of the two pregnant women we shared a portion of 2013 with, was going into labor. The number of women that die in Haiti during childbirth positions Haiti as the 34th worst country in the world in terms of maternal mortality. So... hearing that a women is in labor is well, nerve-wraking as much as it is exciting. But, Praise God, a beautiful baby boy was born via C-section. For now, all is well. Will you pray for mom and baby?

"Lovelie" (far right), pre-baby #2 
Speaking of prayer, we have a few more requests. I probably should have just called this 'the prayer update.' Maybe I will!

Loudjina, Jenn, Dadou, and Loudjina's grandma are travelling to Port-au-Prince early, early Monday morning for an appointment. She will have a CT scan and an evaluation to see if anything can be done surgically to ameliorate her condition. If something can be done, our hope is that she can return to Port-au-Prince later this month when there will be a pediatric neurosurgeon in Haiti. Can you pray both for safe travels and for the outcome of this visit?

Another very, very exciting piece of news is that Billens, the 9 year old son of Louisemene (Second Mile Haiti jewelry-maker) may be one-step closer to heart surgery. Billens was born with a congenital heart abnormality and many a visiting pediatric heart surgeon has recommended corrective surgery as his only option.

Billens, age 8, at 2012 staff Christmas party

But heart surgery is hard to come by in Haiti. In fact, prior to 2012 pediatric heart surgery in Haiti was really rare. As a matter of fact it is still really rare. But a new group called the Haiti Cardiac Alliance is taking on the task of making heart surgery more available to Haitian children. To start they are taking inventory of the children in Haiti who are currently living with heart conditions and placing the names of children who need surgery on a waiting list. The next goal is to match those children with surgical teams scheduled to operate in Haiti sometime within the next two years. Creating more surgical opportunities and training Haitian heart surgeons are subsequent goals. We were able to connect with that group and got the "okay" to have Billens and his mom travel to the center of Haiti to be seen at the new Partners in Health hospital this Tuesday. Louisemene is so excited. We actually met Louisemene because of Billen's heart condition. He has been a beloved little friend for over three years and she has been a treasured employee for almost two. For 9 years she's forged a tight relationship with God, trusting that he has Billen's life in his hands. For 6 months now she has been waiting for passports so that she could travel to the Dominican Republic where heart surgeries are performed twice a year. She's been waiting and trusting and praying for a long time. The opportunity to have the Haiti Cardiac Alliance evaluate Billens is an answer to a mother's prayer.

Louisemene and her three kiddos, one is adopted (I say that simply to point out a Haitian adoptive mom).

It's an answer to prayer for me too! I've written countless emails regarding his condition, reaching out to person after person that seemed connected in some way to pediatric heart programs. But the Haiti Cardiac Alliance wants to take away all that ambiguity. I'm awaiting news of their trip with much anticipation. Please pray for safe travels. They will simply be learning whether or not he will be placed on that waiting list, essentially whether surgery is feasible and whether he would be a candidate for an operation within the next two years.

Ok, so can you remember all that? Please pray for Jenn as she does both my job (which really isn't that demanding ;) and hers (which is very demanding) while I am in the States. Pray for safe travels to Port-au-Prince for Jenn and Dadou, and safe travels to the Central Plateau for Louisemene, and for hopeful news for Loudjina and Billens. Pray for the newest little siblings, Jiselle's little sister and Loudjina's new little brother. And please pray for the new moms and children we will be opening our doors to on January 13th.

Happy New Year, and don't forget to check your physical mailbox (wondering how many more years before those become obsolete.?.) but, give me a week, at least. ;)