In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Rising Temperatures, and a Spate of Donations for God's Littlest Angels

True to their word, my work colleagues have began raising funds and gathering supplies for God's Lightest Angels.

Friday morning: with temperatures on the ward approaching 85 degrees, (yes, I do know I'll have to get used to that!) the nurses and support staff began brain storming. They contacted various hospital departments, supermarket stores and pharmacies.

Before the morning was out, I had received a bag from our hospital pharmacy, filled with antibacterial liquid soap and alcohol hand sanitizer. By the end of the day I had instructions to pick up a box of baby care items from the Boots store in Stirling, and the the task of typing up a request for donations, printing out multiple copies and mailing them had been delegated to our Play Specialist.

Saturday: my manager and some of the nurses blitzed the ward, then presented me with a box containing ambu bags, dozens of nasal cannula and facial masks (for delivering oxygen to infants, children and adults), and Naso-gastric feeding tubes for premies and older children.

Sunday morning: before we began to wilt in the sticky heat (our air conditioning unit only cools the temperature by 1-2 degrees), one of the nursing auxiliaries, who does temp work in the paeds ward, brought in a selection of home-baked cakes and biscuits. She had prepared them the following night with her Mother (after a 12.5 hour shift, no less!) Staff were invited for cake and coffee, in return for a £1 donation. I was then invited to go round the other wards in our unit with the left overs. I am too shy for that, so my colleagues went...all left overs sold!

It was all great PR. One of the Doctors has offered to make a financial donation, and the neonatal nurses will be gathering supplies, and have asked me to send them a list of any items they could purchase for me. As for the nurses I work with, they are not finished yet; so far, another coffee morning and a prize draw have been planned.

What motivation! Even as I thanked people, I apologised that I was playing so little a part in their efforts. Their answer: "You are the one who is giving up 6 months months of your time to volunteer in Haiti! Leave this part to us!"

Well, I think they are amazing, and surely it is a sign that the spirit of God is moving, when people of all faiths open their hearts to children they never met, in a country no-one has visited, and some didn't know existed.

Note: I will be able to use some of the funds that have been raised to purchase prescription items from the hospital pharmacy (at wholesale price). If anyone reading this post knows of any specific meds GLA would benefit from, please let me know.

Am I not Human: Children and Armed Conflict in Haiti

On the 27th day of every month, a group of bloggers unite in an online campaign to share information about human rights abuses across the globe. This month, Cry Haiti focuses on the plight of Haitian children affected by armed conflict.

In December 2006, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative to the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, expressed concern about an escalation of violence targeting children in Haiti.

Official data is sparse, therefore, it is acknowledged that official reports of gun violence and sexual assault perpetrated against children in the slums in and around the Port-au-Prince point to a much more wide-spread problem.

There are reports of children being abducted by armed groups. Some of these children are held for ransom, others are trafficked within the country or across the border to the Dominican Republic. The children are sold on as unpaid domestic and agricultural labourers or as sex workers. The proceeds of their sale are used to fund the illegal trade in drugs and weapons.
In a country overwhelmed by civil unrest, where the police and courts function poorly and, at times, in a corrupt manner, organised crime thrives. Among their ranks are children. Some have joined to seek revenge against groups who have killed, injured or assaulted relatives. Others join to seek food or protection, but most are recruited by force.

Follow this link to see a video full-length video about Haiti's child soldiers. This is the modern face of conflict. This is a nation plagued by poverty, hunger and a crumbling infrastructure. Organised crime stands in the way of Haiti's development and, in this way, compromises children's rights: right to life, to food, health care and survival, right to be raised in their family, to be educated, nurtured and protected.

Children who have lost all of this, then give up or forfeit the right to be exempt from direct participation in armed conflict and become subject to physical and sexual abuse and exploitation. Every right enshrined by the UN convention on the rights of the child is violated, and despite the efforts of the UN stabilisation mission and the Haitian judicial system, these violations occur with relative impunity.

All children impacted by Haiti's culture of violence, even those who actively participate are victims. UNICEF and YĆ©le Haiti are among a handful of organisations that provide counselling and rehabilitation services to the survivors.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Since I composed my last post, I have received assurances from friends and family that Christmas gifts will be waiting for me when I get back at the end of February. I have even had one lady from North America offer to bring a care package for me if she travels to Haiti while I am there. The lady doesn't even know me!

So I am feeling humbled and blessed today. During the past week I have also been more than a little bit uncomfortable at the praise people have been heaping on my head.

They know me, so they should understand that I am no angel, and certainly no saint. Oh no! I get crabby, even whinny sometimes, but mostly, when things aren't rosy, I get crabby. Maybe people don't see much of my crabbitness: I try to keep my "less charitable thoughts" to myself but I get plenty of them, especially when I am tired... and everyone who knows me knows I don't have great energy levels!

What I'd like people to know, those who know me and those who don't is that volunteering in Haiti for 6 months isn't really such a great thing. I am about to join the company of missionaries who have given their whole lives to the children of Haiti. Now that really is something.

I am doing a small thing, and, I'm doing it as much for myself as for God. Please pray that I will have the stamina and endurance, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to do that small thing really well.

Update: Although I was advised that the missionary organzation that delivers GLA's mail does not provide a service to catholics, I felt led to approach them. I answered their questions truthfully, and I am pleased to report that they have accepted my application.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

It's all relative...

On Tuesday, I learnt that I would not be able to receive mail while I am in Haiti.

The national postal service there is completely unreliable, so God's Littlest Angels uses a private (missionary) organisation to manage their mail. However, I have been told that they will not provide a service to me because I am catholic.

I could argue the point that the organisation's position is unbiblical, but I doubt that this would affect the outcome.

The thought of not being able to receive snail mail or care packages while I am gone made me feel pretty low, not to mention indignant! What, no Christmas presents!!

Then, I learnt something that made me realise how small this sacrifice really is...

Sea Sunday

Today, my church marked Sea Sunday with the opportunity to give an offering to support The Mission to Seafarers.

Food, fuel, clothing and electrical equipment are some of the many goods transported, by ship, to the United Kingdom, every day. I was surprised to hear that seafaring staff make it possible for us to receive 90% of the items on sale in our shops. Seafarers' time on land is spent at isolated ports, so we don't see them, but every day, men and women around the world leave their families behind to embark on year long contracts at sea.

Today, I learnt about the lonely and hazardous work that seafarers do. Industrial accidents, extreme weather conditions and piracy place them at risk of injury or death. There are no on board welfare officers, and seafarers rarely have access to telecommunications while they are on mission.

The men and women aboard these cargo ships are living in a physical a spiritual vacuum and are extremely vulnerable. While most shipping companies treat their staff well, a minority do not address the most basic human rights of their searfaring employees, by failing to ensure they have adequate food and fresh water or medical care on board, and withholding their wages.
Today, the priest laboured over a point about the word of God falling among rocks or thorns within us: how we often hear without understanding, look without seeing.... Nine hours later, it ocurred to me that God might have wanted me to know that someone with access to telephone and internet should not be whining over snail mail. Whoops!

I made my offering and sent up a prayer for all the invisible people, across the globe, who endure hardship and exploitation to fill our lives with good things.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Susan will be helping the ‘littlest angels’ cling on to life

This article was one of several that was printed in my local area press in the last week. This was thanks to a press release sent out by the press officer at my hospital.

Hopefully, people will open there hearts. I would love for my mission to become theirs!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Staying safe in Haiti

Adressing people's fears about my mission to Haiti is a never ending task. I feel like I go over the same ground again and again, getting no-where. I have even had to stop myself a few times from uttering an exasperated, "haven't we had this discussion all ready?!?"

Of course, we haven't, but I have. Wouldn't it have been so great if I could have gotten every anxious family member, friend, colleague and acquaintance together in one room, one day, and done a group briefing. They could have aired their anxieties. I could have addressed each point:

- No, there isn't a British embassy/consulate in Haiti but I will be registering with the nearest embassy, which, is in the Dominican Republic. The staff there have agreed to assist me, if necessary.
- Yes, gun/gang violence is a problem in the cities, but I will not be in an urban area. Oh no, I will be living and working in a beautiful, and relatively safe community in the Kenscoff mountains, above Haiti's capital.
- The charity I will be working with takes the safety of their staff very seriously. An armed security guard will escort me into and out of the capital, whenever I have cause to be there.
- At the times when Haiti has seen its worst violence, there has been no trouble in the area God's Littlest Angels operates in. (The trouble makers don't come that far up the mountain!)
- The mission's compounds are protected by high walls and imposing, metal gates. I am not sure if there are security guards there but I know they have guard dogs and I also know the thieves and thugs of Haiti are afraid, no, very afraid, of those mangy beasts.
- Yes, there are hurricanes in the Caribbean, but the the mountains in my area will shield me from the full force of the summer winds.

Most people are reassured by these points and accept that the Kenscoff area is safer that where I worked in South Africa. In Haiti, I will be able to take a walk to the local grocery store, take a baby out for a stroll in the late afternoon sun, hike to a nearby waterfall..... God's Littlest Angel's volunteers do these things on a daily basis. Many of them even use the local public transport to explore the area. I'm not sure if I'll be quite that adventurous. The system is informal, unregulated and chaotic. I am generally a sensible woman, you see. There are nods of agreement whenever I remind people of this.

But somehow, the most reassuring thing for them is that I will be contactable when I am in Haiti. The mission has a satellite phone and wireless Internet. I have set up this blog, and I will post pictures, I tell them. They like that, and I am glad, not least of all because wanting to check in on me is a sign that they care. I will carry that thought whenever I feel homesick in Haiti.