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!

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.