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, February 24, 2014

Things Just got a little more "legit"

We had a team last week! That's quite rare around here but we really enjoyed this team and we are so thankful all the hard work they put into making the facility more usable. They worked marvelously with the Second Mile employees in a way that gave them ownership of some of the projects (see the deck project below).

The project wish list we set before the team could have seemed terribly daunting, but they completed the tasks with ease and efficiency. Serious, efficiency.

Most mind blowing was the way they tackled the chair project. We borrowed a model chair (desk) from another organization and wanted 20 chairs built to suite. So, in the most sensical of ways they started cutting wood. They sliced and diced 1 x 4s until they had 20 sets of the various chair components. 

The pieces were varnished and assembled.

Loudjina's dad worked with the team all week

I think it's fair to assume that the Ferguson's and Jason enjoyed getting to know Loudjina's dad, Jimmy. He worked at the site for two weeks to earn the money the family would need to go to Port au Prince to meet with a team of neurosurgeons. Jimmy and his mother-in-law left for Loudjina's surgery consult the same day that our team left to head back to the States. I'm sure many of you are wondering what happened.

Based on the January assessment of Loudjina's condition the surgeons had ruled out the possibility of placing a shunt, yet there was still talk of an alternative surgery. Sadly, when the family showed up to the hospital on Friday the surgeons deemed that her pressure sores posed too great a risk that the surgical site would become rapidly infected. We had suspected that... There's always the tendency to gear ourselves up for the bad news, even when at our core we hope for a miracle.

heading to the bus station
At this point, we are at peace. We were able to help the family make three trips to Port where they met with US based neurosurgeons. At least they had a chance. Between those trips they spent a combined total of 10 weeks at our site during which we loved them and stood beside them through some of the scariest,  happiest, and most painful of moments.

Deep down I struggle with how unfair it is for Loudjina to have lived her life like this. Such a cumbersome existence. And her parents... and grandparents, aunts and uncles and the friends that have loved her... it's not fair for them that she won't live as long as she should.

It shouldn't be like this.. but it is.

Acceptance brings peace. And I find comfort in my belief that God, who is love, loves Loudjina in-quantifiably more than myself or Jenn, or her parents, or the surgeons that devote their lives to kids like Loudjina, ever could. That's the silver lining. The other silver lining is that Loudjina has a ridiculously cool wheelchair. On the Wednesday before they left for Port-au-Prince, our friends at Haiti Hospital Appeal called. They wanted to make sure Loudjina didn't miss out on this amazing opportunity.

We quickly loaded up the family in the truck and Jenn took them over to the hospital where Loudjina was fitted with a custom wheelchair, courtesy of Canada Healing Hands. This group worked tirelessly to create the perfect chair for what must have amounted to hundreds of kids in and around Cap Haitien. What a special moment it was for Loudjina and family, and all of the children who were able to benefit.

The next day Loudjina took a spin in her new chair. Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, the team continued working. By this time they were finishing up the tiling project. The two rooms adjacent to the education center have been unused to date but will soon become an office and a sewing room. The tile will help keep the rooms clean and bright.

With a little coaching, Joslin and Verdieu were able to tile one of the two rooms on their own. 

Joslin and Verdieu got an "intro to tiling" during Jason's last trip. Last January, Jason and the guys tiled the space we've cleverly dubbed "the upstairs apartment." It's a second story building where some of our employees sleep. It also has a bathroom, a kitchen, and an area that doubles as Jenn's office. It's also where we make enriched milk. And it's been home to many a spontaneous staff meeting. Thanks to the team, this space has a lovely new chalkboard, made possible by plywood and chalkboard paint.

After the tiling and the chairs, the team built four picnic tables and four table/desks. They also made several more chalkboards. Now the education building is ready for action! 

Well, I suppose we still have some cleaning to do. We will have to move some of these picnic benches out under the mango tree. Then we will line up the desks to give that traditional classroom feel. 

Why are we so excited about chairs and tables?! Well, the education building has given us an opportunity to host community events, although without any benches, we always had to hall out the beds to use for seating. Also, the moms come to the education center for their business classes and some of their health classes and it is used by staff when they want to meet for prayer and worship. The garden employees have always taken their lunch here. Now they will have a wider range of seating choices and an actual place to rest! They will still come into this space for special training seminars, only now they won't have to sprawl out to take notes!

before the new desks

20 desks! 
Ama, is arguably the most excited about these improvements. He gets to teach a literacy class to the moms! As a former school professor, his heart for teaching is one of our favorite things about him. He values education and he loves to learn.

When we spoke with him about the possibility of teaching some basic reading and writing skills he jumped on it. Jenn broached the subject with him and that very same day, after a long 8-hours in the gardens he went home, changed into some "teacher clothes" and headed over to officially enroll the moms in his class. It was very, very official. He made two lists, one with the names of women who could read and write and the other with those who can't. Then he submitted a written request to Jenn. Notebooks, please. 

The last and final project, was a deck that was built with the intention to get some of the cooking up off the ground. It's just the beginning but we are very pleased to see how easily the deck came together.  We plan to add a palm-branch canopy (similar to the one on our chicken coop) which will ensure that every one eats even during the rare, mid-afternoon rain storm. 

Using clorox bottles to make cement posts
a quick lesson on making things level

current cooking area
Between the desk-chairs, and the wheelchairs, I'd say we had a great week. Thanks again team! 

Monday, February 17, 2014


This week we are getting a few projects done.

Jason Gigure, the man responsible for designing our septic system, installing all our plumbing components, and teaching us to tile is back! This time he brought some friends (the pastor of his church, the pastor's wife, and their son, a senior in high school). The group comes from Mt. Zion, a church that has been partnering with us through bake sales and silent auctions for all two years of our existence. Jason's wife, Karen, has been leading the church into all things that rhyme with Haiti, and justice, and generosity for the 3+ years that we've known her. Consequently, there's probably more Second Mile jewelry in that 30 mile radius than anywhere else in America. So thank you Mt. Zion for standing with us and sending your people. We are going to get a lot done this week and we are thrilled to be able to share Haiti with pastor and family, who have come to experience this for the first time. They're asking questions, making some brilliant observations, and soaking up the people, the sites, and the sun's rays.

But Jason is not new to Haiti. It is actually his third work trip at Second Mile, and we don't even do work trips. How's that for an extra special record!

Aside from our electrician group and a spattering of close friends and family members who we have occasionally put to work during visits, we haven't had any "work teams" participate in the building of Second Mile. Why not? Well, the answer is simply that we desire to respect the talents and capabilities of the Haitian people who live around our facility. With so many people in need of work to keep their families fed, clothed, and housed does it not seem cruel to ignore their plight while building a facility we say will be used for good? We decided before we even began, that yes, hosting North American work teams could seem cruel and insensitive and in doing so we would be overlooking the needs of our neighbors. We must aim to do good, not harm, holistically, in and through our actions, words, and choices. Sometimes its the choices that speak the loudest. And we want to be heard in a way that says we see you and we care...

That being said. Jason has been our token exception. He usually comes by himself and remains perfectly content to work hard while we feed him his favorite p-foods, pineapple, papaya, pikliz, and plaintains.  He was just what we needed when we were first getting started, back when Jenn needed someone to teach her about septic and plumbing. Jason was the guy. He made the plans and we bought all the materials in Haiti. He was willing to use what we had available to us even if that meant using dehydrated and pressed sugarcane waste instead of fancy mesh fabric in the drainage field.

For this, and for many other reasons, the guys at the land respect him. Although they never quite got his name right (when we said Jason, they heard Jen-son and it stuck), I think they sense that as he works alongside them, teaching them to use pvc glue and cut tile, that he genuinely cares whether or not they come away with new skills. Jenn had a conversation with Jason on his first trip about how it works in Haiti-- how one learns a trade and moves to a place where he or she can exercise those skills as a sought after contractor, mason, plumber, or tiler. She described how hopeful workers must find a "boss," an experienced contractor in their trade, to take them on as an apprentice, to show them the ropes and give them a chance, eventually, to fly. He latched on to that. Jason comes to be a "boss." He works from a place of wanting his apprentices to be able to do it themselves next time, and to do it better.

He even taught himself some Creole. He's a collaborator more than a volunteer. His trips help prepare the Second Mile staff with some all-around useful skills. And that's good for Second Mile's sustainability as a Haitian-operated entity. If we are going to be efficient and sustainable-- then somebody's got to know how to use the pvc glue. And that someone can't be living in Wisconsin when the pipes take to leakin.'

So the guys at Second Mile are working with Jason and team this week.

Truth is before they started working, we only had two benches, a makeshift table which was thrown together one day with some left over pieces of wood, and a few chairs that have a habit of breaking if you even just look at them the wrong way. I won't even bother with the math. That's just flat out - not sustainable at all. Chairs are for sitting and tables are for working and eating. They need to be functional and they need to last.

this place is about to look a whole lot different

The plan for the week is to build four picnic tables, at least 20 chairs (the sturdy kind), several benches, a workbench, two desks, and a deck for the outdoor cooking area. They will also tile the two rooms adjacent to the education center. One is meant to be an office, the other is the "sewing room," a room that will have a variety of creative purposes.

sewing room/office/education center

These three chairs have made their way into a lot of our education photos in the past two weeks.
Truth is, they're borrowed goods, but soon we'll have our own and we can return to lender. 
Some things have moved fast, here. Other things we've taken a bit slower. Everything has it's time and it's moment. Guess what, we can't hold off on the seats any longer. We've raised the money and we've had sufficient time to think about what we need and what we don't. It's time! And we're excited! Jenn's been planning for weeks taking down dimensions, making supply lists, and acquiring materials. They were able to get started almost as soon as they landed in Cap Haitian on Saturday.

Even the garden workers stayed past the end of their work-day to get in on the excitement.

I'm convinced that by the time the week's over if we ever need another chair, table, or bench. These guys will be able to do it. That's growth.

So that's what we've got going on this week. It feels like a milestone. We have 7 moms at Second Mile now and 3 referrals on the way, but it's funny how its the building of a few new chairs that makes it feel like we are growing again. Funny, how new tables makes it seem like we are gearing up for something new on horizon. And you know... benches are meant to seat people, lots of them. Just like making 12 beds last March made it finally feel real that people would soon be sleeping in them, making tables means that soon people will really be working at them. In the next few months our education center is getting re-fitted to be the grand-central station of sustainability and skills training projects.

It's about to look a whole lot different up in here.

note: Jenn wants prayer! She has a lot on her plate as always. She's the mastermind behind the planning and the running. Projects mean she has to do some extra juggling.

Monday, February 10, 2014

the visitors' view

Our last post was about the progress of the children currently at Second Mile with their moms. But what about the people behind the scenes? Second Mile is made possible because of 12  dedicated individuals, present at the land 6 days a week (plus another 3 who come just one day a week). Jenn and I are deeply grateful for these kind and caring people. We've watched them grow into their roles. Most of these people have been around in one way or another since the we first began clearing the sugar cane field to start this project 22 months ago. But enough of the mushy stuff...

I'm just here to tell you what an amazing job the staff is doing handling day to day operations. Here's a quick look at what they've been up to lately.

Our two cooks have begun using more Moringa in the daily meals. Moringa is loaded with important nutrients. It has a high protein content and is touted for it’s many benefits among malnourished children. Magoul and Gigi cook 3 meals a day. It's the best when they can just walk back to the gardens for the food they need for meals. The Moringa trees are flourishing. They simply walk to the back, snap off a few branches and add the leaves to the soup. 

Joslin and Verdieu still handle all-things related to the goats and cows. They take them out to pasture every day, make sure they are eating and drinking well, and bring them safely back to the property at the end of the day. One of my favorite moments during the day is when the cows come home... Joslin milks the cows each morning. And Verdieu often delivers the milk to customers. 

If you think the cows are looking scrawny-- they were-- we experienced a 52 day drought which killed a lot of the cow's foraging material. This picture was taken shortly after a good rain.  The cows are looking much more plush now. 
Joslin and Verdieu
Dadou is still responsible for the business program. He teaches daily classes covering topics that range from managing family dynamics to basic savings and investment to “what to do when your neighbor asks for your help.” He teaches with wisdom and patience. I try to pay attention when he speaks to people. 

He still oversees all employees and works with Jenn to manage operational issues that arise. He’s responsible for all follow-up with moms and dads and their businesses. Many of the women are single mothers, but whenever a dad is involved, Dadou has a way of quickly building a relationship with these men, young and old.

Kerline is still responsible for everything that falls under the domain of health, including admitting children and mothers, monitoring their health and weight gain, and teaching the health education component. She’s a friend and a mentor to the mothers and is responsible for advising them both while they are at Second Mile and while they are in follow-up. She sets follow-up appointments for the mothers so that she can continue to monitor the children's health and progress. And makes decisions based on how the children are doing at home. More often than not the women want to talk to her about things unrelated to health. And that's fine too. She is a great listener and wants what is best for these women in all areas of their life, their emotional and spiritual well-being as important as their physical health. 

teaching a health class
taking measurements

Joseph is still managing the gardens. Not only is he in charge of four other garden employees (Ama, Wesley, Wilsner, and Jean Marie), but together, the garden employees have an extra special responsibility. For the past four weeks, 3 young men (teenagers from Cap Haitien) have been coming out to the land to participate in what we are calling, the “garden internship.” We are partnering with a magnificent organization, Streethearts, to offer a paid internship to some former “street kids” who reside in the Streethearts safe house. These city boys are learning to garden while also learning what it means to show up for a job every day. They are being mentored by some exceptional men (our employees) and they are getting to see the fruits of their labor as they watch food emerge from the land. We’ve enjoyed watching these boys take pride in their contribution to the gardens. It’s an incredible opportunity for these young men and a very special partnership for us.  

In the last blog post I wrote about Errod’s involvement with the chickens. Whenever he is not busy running errands or managing our food supply, Errod helps out with projects around the land. A few weeks ago all the guys, (Errod, Joslin, Dadou, and Verdieu) teamed up to hang mosquito nets above the moms beds. And for the past two weeks they have been working to create these pathways. They are quite lovely...and a good safety measure. It's much harder to twist an ankle when you're walking on solid ground.  The paths should help both pedestrians and vehicle avoid the mud sinkholes that used to form after heavy rains.  

The beadmakers (Dorothy, Louisemene, and Rosenie) are still producing beautiful jewelry. Dorothy, broke her leg last month in an accident. We thank God that she wasn't more seriously injured and that she's having an uncomplicated recovery. We love her for the joy and fun she brings to the team. Her beading sisters, Rosenie and Louismene have been visiting her regularly at home. They bring her paper and sometimes stay to roll beads with her. They even roll beads on her behalf to make sure she can still make the weekly quotas.  Of course we would have made sure that she was taken care of regardless, but it was sweet to see these women step forward with the confidence that she would do the same for them.  The women still roll beads from home and come to the land once a week to complete the other steps in the jewelry making process.  

Last week the bead makers also taught some of the young “Streethearts” how to make a paper beads. The culture of teamwork is incredible and it’s amazing to watch them give back. 


Well, I started yesterday's blog post by saying that we had a busy week. One of the events that made it so, was a visit from 3 outstanding guys from Minnesota, and one outstanding young lady. The group’s leader had been out to see us once before-- back before our doors were open, before construction was even complete. This time he brought with him some of his friends. Jenn had been introduced to these guys during her last fundraising trip to Minnesota. She sat with them in board rooms and spent time with their families. It was a joy to be able to reciprocate their hospitality and to show them Second Mile and some of our favorite organizations. 

They said that one of their favorite things about the trip was watching the employees confidently working in their respective areas. Hearing them speak about what they saw in our staff -- is probably what prompted me to write this post. These men and women are doing incredible things day in and day out. They're the best. We don't say it enough. 

Early Friday morning our guests joined the staff’s prayer and worship time and saw how important prayer is among the employees. It’s the glue that holds us all together. We know many of you are praying for Second Mile. As our visitors can attest, we’re praying for you too. 

Ama tends to the cabbage seedlings

Sunday, February 9, 2014

chickens, babies, and a bit about being short

We are wrapping up a busy week with what promises to be an eventful weekend. On Sunday there will be big party in our village. A local Haitian-run micro-finance program has planned a celebration of their 1-year anniversary. More than 300 people have been involved in this lending program. It's a good thing. They’ve asked us to be there. 

This morning Jenn competed in a 4k fun-run in downtown Cap Haitien. Guess who took first place among the females? Yep. Ms. Jenn Schenk took the prize. 

Tonight a friend is celebrating his birthday. It's almost midnight and I'm still hearing the kompa music and the sounds of lingering party guests coming from the apartment next door. 

I don't bring up races and parties for nothing. This particular friend happens to be a PhD student and has been kind enough to consult with us regarding our chickens and their diet. He and Jenn contrived a plan to better balance the our chickens' diet using food sources that have the potential to be more sustainable and less expensive. 

We are always looking for ways to improve the chicken's health and nutrition but at the moment we aren’t having any major problems. The chickens are producing big, beautiful brown eggs so delicious that they are flying off the shelves faster than those ladies can lay. 

Errod, a SMH staff member, has added chicken care to his repertoire of responsibilities. He’s been getting special training and has definitely taken ownership of the egg production process. He works hard to make the egg business as successful as it can be. It’s his job to monitor how many eggs the hens lay per day, to oversee their food supply, and to procure all feed elements before we run out. He even delivers the eggs to customers. 

Recently, with money from the Holiday Catalog, we did an upgrade on the chicken pen to include a cement base (for easy cleaning). Besides the cement the pen elements are pretty organic. The ground is lined with rice shells and the roof was created with dried palm leaves. It’s much nicer than the salvaged wire barricade we put up the first time and much bigger than the bamboo pen we used for our very first 20 chickens. Those temporary pens cost next to nothing  since we used materials left over from construction. But since we now have 120 chickens an upgrade was definitely in order.  It was time. 

before, old coop

during, the sugar cane canopy was built by a local man...
we told him we liked the canopy he had at his place and then hired him to make one for us

The chickens seem pretty content in their new space. 


We are currently working with four families. 

#1 Daniel Tiny Daniel is stable and getting bigger by the day.  He is almost 4 months old. This was his third full week at Second Mile (for a total of 3 1/2 weeks). 

His mother was having issues breastfeeding during Daniel’s first 3 months. When she came to Second Mile she was underweight herself and was feeling ill. She was tested for tuberculosis but came up with a clean bill of health. Her story is like that of so many other women in Haiti.... a mother's illness affects a child's health. But too often mothers are separated from their children when they themselves are ill. Maternal illness and death are common reasons why Haitian children end up in the orphanages. The child is first separated at the time of health crisis, but sadly, it seems that the longer a mother remains ill and unable to receive treatment or answers, the more likely that mother and child will never be reunited. 

We are thankful that Milouse and Daniel didn't have to be separated and that mom's health issues seemed to resolve after a few good meals and rest. The stresses of not knowing whether or not she had a serious condition and whether or not she would be able to afford treatment combined with the stress of not knowing how she would get help for Daniel could have been enough to keep her sick.... the reduction of those stresses might have been the turning point for healing. 

At Second Mile we are working to improve health-seeking behaviors among women both for themselves and for their children. Each case is different, but part of our health education curriculum is teaching women where, when, and how to seek healthcare. Of course, knowing when and how to use a healthcare facility means nothing if a woman does not have the means to travel to hospital or to pay for treatment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every mother with could afford to nourish and care for herself, including regular check-ups? Wouldn't it be great if every family could head straight to the hospital in an emergency without worrying about how expensive medication will be if  a child is admitted? 

We can’t expect good outcomes if families don’t have enough money for food, shelter, and basic health care, much less savings for health emergencies. That's why the business program is set up to give these vulnerable and disadvantaged mothers the tools they need to run and sustain successful business. We're still working to make the program better, but we are learning so much with each new situation. 

Friday - Daniel and Mom packed and ready to go home for the weekend

#2 Mickey We also still have Mickey and his mother with us. His story is a bit more complex. I’m working out a blog post to share more of his hard and hopeful journey. Mickey is almost a year old. He weighs 12.7 lbs. When they first came to Second Mile he weighed only 8.8 lbs. 

#3 Bel Little Bel, age 3, just completed 4 weeks at Second Mile. She gained weight rapidly due to an affinity for Medika Mamba. She quickly moved from a diagnosis of “moderate acute malnutrition” to a weight that is average for children of her height. She made the jump from 16 lbs to 19 lbs in just 3 weeks. 

Friday, going home to Grandpa
While we are excited about Bel’s progress she still shows some lingering signs of poor nutrition. Her orange hair and her short stature are signs that she isn’t completely out of the woods yet. Any illness at this point could send her right back to where she started. The short stature you see in children who are undernourished has a technical name. It’s called stunting.

Stunting is present when children are exposed to a diet that is persistently lacking in essential micronutrients, such as iron, folic acid, and vitamin A. Without these and other essential nutrients children don’t grow and develop as they should. For example, even though a child's weight might be average compared to children of the same height, these “stunted” children are considerably shorter and don’t look as healthy as other children their age. Just about 1/3 of the world's children are stunted. (That's a big problem). Children who are stunted fall ill considerably more often than children who are not. Bel is the perfect example.
Bel's grandma shelling beans outside the Recovery Home. Bel's mom died 3 months ago.
Bel had cold symptoms all week and it affected her appetite. She lost a little bit of weight last weekend, then she stayed stable during the week. This small episode of illness gave us the opportunity to teach the all the moms about managing  the spread of germs among other children in their households. The moms learned about washing toys before they get into the hands of a smaller/more fragile child. They learned about the benefits of vitamin C and how important it is to increase the amount of liquids you give a child while he or she is sick. The good news is that Bel didn’t lose too much ground as a result of this cold. We praised the grandma for this! In fact, this week Bel showed one of the best signs of recovery: the energy to walk and play! She spent a few afternoons this week, getting creative with a basket full of building blocks. 

Bel and Grandma had to leave the facility on Friday because of a death in the family but she will be back for follow-up. As she continues to eat a diet rich in iron her hair should change and we should see progress in her height. One of our favorite things to note when kids come back for follow-up is how tall they are getting!  Along with weight gain, an increase in height (or length) is an excellent sign of overall improved nutritional status. 

Take Witchana for example. She sure has changed in 6 months time! 

                       Witchana at Second Mile (May, 2013)                              Witchana, 6 months later (Now, 2013)

#4 And finally, Loudjina is back at Second Mile, with mom, brother, and dad. 

You may remember an update in a recent blog post where we said that Loudjina had recently returned from a trip to a hospital in Port-au-Prince. Everyone was hoping that she would be scheduled for surgery during the trip. But then we learned from the family that nothing could be done for her severe case of hydrocephalus. But.. as it turns out... we have reason to believe that the family was confused and that the visiting physicians would have placed a shunt (to drain fluid via a tube from brain to abdomen) in January if only the family had been willing to stay for the entire week. But instead, after just two nights in Port-au-Prince they traveled back home to Cap Haitien. It was disheartening to learn of this discrepancy between the nurse’s story and the family’s story but we want to give Loudjina and her family a second chance at surgery if it is available to them. It is once again a possibility that a visiting surgical team will attempt to place a shunt. A few days ago, the nurse in charge of the program called Jenn and asked that she arrange for the family to return February 20th. 

Loudjina’s father is doing some work at our facility to earn the money they will need to travel back to Port au Prince. We thank the donors who have provided this transportation money as these are the funds that allow us to pay Loudjina’s father for the work he is doing. We believe this arrangement is best for the family as it allows them to have ownership over the money they will need when they go back. Having Loudjina’s dad at our facility during the day is also a great thing for Loudjina. Her mom just gave birth to their second child via C-section 4 weeks ago. Dad has been a big help feeding and dressing Loudjina, giving mom time to recuperate. We taught Loudjina’s entire family and some of the other moms how to lift and turn Loudjina using a 3-person method that will help prevent any more pressure ulcers from forming. She is getting 2 dressing changes per day for her existing wounds.

That's all for now.
More updates coming tomorrow!