I was hoping to write a bit yesterday but we had a little internet problem. Okay, a bit of a big one. In the process of putting up a new fence we had to take down the satellite dish because it would be sticking right through. The guys took it down, welded on another extension of pipe they re-mounted it, and Chris tried to set it again with his computer, but it didn’t work. It seemed like a good idea at the time… Anyway, usually when we call the internet guy he says, “I’ll be out there tomorrow.” What he doesn’t say is that it might be tomorrow two weeks from now. Yesterday he said “tomorrow” so we were preparing for a couple weeks without internet, but he actually came. By 8 am. See, this is why Haiti is so hard to live in! You never really know what you’re going to get.
Tuesday I went back up to Canaan for Medika Manba. It was such a good day. Meds and Food for Kids was having some problems with their recent manba (peanut butter) batches and were waiting for test results to come back from the US. They hadn’t been able to send any Medika Manba out so Bobi and Josh had been mixing their own. Medika Manba is really just peanut butter, oil, sugar, milk powder and vitamins. The idea is to pump these kids full of nutrients and carbs so their bodies can start working properly again. Bobi’s mix was equal parts oil, peanut butter, milk powder and sugar, then we handed out vitamins for the kids with it.
As the morning was picking up speed and I was finishing off a consult I saw a Land Cruiser pull up and back up to the clinic. When you work in development or in a country like Haiti for a while you start to see certain kinds of vehicles being driven by certain kinds of organizations. Land Cruisers are a favorite of medical organizations. I mentioned it to Bobi and she looked up and with big eyes said, “That’s the Manba. They’ve brought us Manba!” It had been three weeks of having to make due, and like manna from heaven, there it was! We did finish off what Bobi had mixed up for the day, but it was so nice to know that the storage cupboard is full again and ready to go for next week. Turns out all the testing came back with good results and the stock of Manba on hand is fine, so they can start distributing it again.
The great news is that despite having to mix the manba, we saw a lot of good gains this week. It’s so exciting to see a kid start to get healthy. I love being able to tell the parents that their child has gained weight like we were hoping to see. We always try to encourage the parents and tell them that it’s their work that is doing it, we just provide the tool. I love seeing a mothers face light up when we get excited about a weight gain. Parenting in Haiti is not the same as it is in North America. I would almost venture to say that many of the ways we parent in North America are luxuries. Being able to encourage a mother or father and tell them that they’re doing a great thing for their kid is great. Seeing their faces light up at the praise is wonderful because encouragement in this culture is rare. It’s just a cultural thing. Hmm, whole other blog post right there. Someone remind me to write about that.
I was really excited because I personally saw 5 graduates on Tuesday. We know that the program is working if there’s a consistent graduation rate, and if new kids are being admitted into the program. 5 kids in one week is great! We also admitted a few new ones.
The parents that we work with are generally poorer people and many of them have limited education. It can be really difficult to help them understand how the program works and what they need to do. Each week the child is weighed. We can tell from their gain, or in some cases, loss, what is going on. There are a bunch of questions we ask each week, like whether the child has been vomiting, has had diarrhea, has a fever, did they eat well, did they finish the manba etc. Those questions are good indicators of what’s going on in the home. If a child is losing weight there is either a health issue, or the manba isn’t getting to them in the quantities needed. If we’re seeing that problem we’ll give the parents the run down on how the program needs to work again, and a gentle warning that they need to follow directions. If multiple warnings need to be given and the child isn’t gaining they will be kicked out of the program. Those situations are heavy, but you can’t force a parent to do something, they need to be actively participating in it.
On Tuesday between Bobi, Josh and I we saw about 50 kids. There were some consults that were fun, and some that were heavy. One of the heavy ones that I had later in the day was Nikolson, a nine month old baby that was the same size Olivia was at about two months, but less fat. He is HIV positive. His father is a simple man. His mother is dead, I’m guessing from HIV. It was good to be able to tell the father he was doing a good job and that Nikolson was gaining weight. I saw a brief smile when I told him that, but the heaviness weighed on him. He told me a bit about his life – that Nikolsons mother was dead and that he had no work. I could see a father that loved his child and was just trying to do what he could. The fact that he was there was a huge thing. We talked about HIV medication for Nikolson, and that Haiti has some great resources in that way. I asked if the father had been tested and was happy to hear that he had been, twice so far, and the results were negative and that he told me he needed to go back in six months to test again. Life is so very hard here for many. The good news in this situation is that Nickolson will be graduating the program in the next few weeks. And, in the time that he’s been in the program he’s gone from being on deaths door to being a little guy that lit up and smiled at me and wanted to play in his own little way on Tuesday. Those are the great things.
I also want to tell you about Carla. Carla is 20 months old and is a little spitfire. She’ll probably be graduating next week. On Tuesday she was goofing around like any normal 20 month old. For some reason the two of us really connected and we had a bit of a lull between kids so we all took a bit of a break and sat and hung out with Carla and her mom and brother for a bit. We were all in stitches as we watched this little girl spin and goof around. Bobi said that when she entered the program she was just sort of listless. What I saw on Tuesday was a normal little girl, not much different from Olivia. I really enjoyed having the time to talk to her mom too. I can see where Carla gets her personality from. It was wonderful to see the joy in her mothers face as she watched her daughter playing. I could tell that she was so grateful for the change. As we talked she shared a bit about her life with me. Her husband of 15 years decided to leave her when Carla was 5 months old. He left her to look after 5 kids on her own, with no job. She told me she didn’t know if she would be able to send her kids to school, and she worried about whether she would be able to feed them. But, she told me, “With Jesus I know I can do it!” When she said it there was some arm waving and finger pointing :) She also told us about 10 times that she was never going to be with another man, not after what her husband did to her! Bobi and I were still smiling about that yesterday :) No matter how hard life might be for her now, she knew that it wasn’t worth it to take a chance and get pregnant again and have another child she might not be able to look after. Another thing I loved about this woman was that she was still breast feeding Carla, whenever Carla wanted it. At 20 months old! There are some big superstitions here about that and you often hear women say that after 3 or 6 months they shouldn’t be breast feeding. I loved that this mother knew that it was the best thing she could do for her daughter. I know she knows because she told me, again, with finger wagging and much conviction :)
Yesterday morning we had a great meeting with our workers that went to the sanitation and hygiene workshop last week. It was so exciting to see how enthusiastic they were about what they learned. They’ve got some great ideas about how to do more community based meetings and we’re looking forward to seeing how that develops. Yesterday afternoon I took them up to Canaan so they could meet everyone in the clinic and get a feel for how they want to do the teaching times there. It’s wonderful to see them taking ownership of this and I’m so looking forward to seeing how we can be incorporating that education with what the clinic is already doing, and seeing how we can be promoting the filters. We’re going to start working with the Manba families next week doing filter promotion. I know some of them are going to be really enthusiastic. When I told Carla’s mom about the filter and explained that once she bought it she could have all the filtered water she wanted and that we could let her pay for it in installments she reached into her pocket and held out 4 Goudes and wanted to give it to me right then and there. The filters cost Haitian families 200 Goudes, so it wasn’t much, but she was so excited that she wanted to start right then and there. Those are great moments.