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.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Calebasse Christian School

Today was special. We visited a local mission school. The school is run by a Haitian couple and serves some of the poorest children in our area. These children receive a basic education and a hot meal every day that they attend.

To get there we had to take a bone jarring journey across rocky, pot-holed mountain roads. The 5 mile drive took almost 30 minutes as we made a tortuous ascent that narrowed and wound around cliff edges. The sheer drops down into the valleys below were unguarded. The route must be absolutely trecherous when it rains.

The trip was well worth it. We traveled to the Calebasse Christan school with 3 Canadians, who are volunteering at GLA. Jack, Caryn and John are in Haiti with Active Christians with a Mission (ACWAM). Their organisation has partnered with the Calebasse mission. ACWAM run a sponsorship programme and they raise funds and gather supplies to support this rural Haitian school.

The Haitian primary schools have been closed until October. It is hoped that by then, some semblance of normality will have returned to this nation, which was devastated by 4 tropical storms in August-September.

Although school is not in session at the Calebasse mission, the The principal (Nixon Dorlus, shown below in the green shirt) and most of his staff, were present today to run Sunday school, which is operating as normal at the school. The principal greeted us with hugs on our arrival. His wife and mother kissed us.

It brought tears to our eyes to hear the childrens' singing. Theyhad all arrived in their best clothes. Many of the girls wore ribbons in their hair and were dressed in old-fashioned knee-length dresses with puffed sleeves. In Haitian churches, females must dress modestly. Midrifts and shoulders are always covered. Some children brought their toddler siblings and an elderly couple also attended.

Everyone was encouraged to participate. Some of the boys had tambourines. 3 of the teachers played guitars and flutes and a reluctant Caryn was roped into several duets. Some of the children also got up to sing, alone or in pairs. The songs were in English and Kreyol.

I was glad to have the chance to observe older Haitian children. They watched us shyly. For the most part, they were quiet and respectful, although an hour into the service, they did begin to squirm, and chat among themselves. If I am honest, my concentration was also drifting at that point. Gift bags filled with sweet treats from Canada soon got the childrens' attention!

Afterwards we toured the school and were treated to a traditional Haitian meal of fried chicken, plantains and salad. I wondered why the principal's wife, mother and children had not joined us at the table. Later, I learned that in traditional Haitian households, women and children eat after the men. Apparently, Caryn, Amanda and I were elevated to the status of Haitian men for the day. It is a dubious honor but I for one appreciated the humility of this family. Nixon helped to set the table and even cleared our plates away when the meal was finnished.

His passion for the children in his community is plain to see. This morning, his teachers preached to the children about being humble before God. The little ones in these photographs are blessed to have the chance to receive a basic education, provided by dedicated teachers, who are such true and honest witnesses to the Christian faith. In the context of an extremely patriarchal culture, these men teach the children that they are first in God's Kingdom. God's love for them is not just something they talk about at this school.

I am enjoying my work at the orphanage very much, but it was good to see and experience another side of Haiti. I left the mission with a sense of hope for these children and this country.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A New Arrival

I'd like you all to me my newest angel. He was admitted on Friday. At 9 months of age he weighs just 10 lb.
I heard him wailing from the other side of the orphanage. I spend a lot of time in the high care nursery and after two weeks in there, I know all my babies by their cries. None of them wail quite like that.

He kicked. He Squirmed. And he would not let the nannies comfort him. They handed him to me. For a few moments, the crying stopped. Our new arrival had never seen such a pale face in all his months on this earth!

The novelty was short-lived. The baby scowled, opened his mouth wide and began wailing all over again.

At 9 months of age he desperately wanted his Mummy. He was sick with gastroenteritis, and had been breast-fed up until that afternoon. The little man wretched when we put a bottle in his mouth. He absolutely refused pedialyte (oral rehydration solution) and was not impressed with our formula milk. Eventually, with coaxing, he took some soy milk from a syringe.

He was not able to keep much fluid down, and within a few hours, was started on an IV.

I was feeling a bit homesick myself. I visited the nursery over the weekend to deliver extra TLC. I wanted to help him through his sadness.

In no time at all, the baby was allowing me to hold him and rock him. He began taking small feeds and to our surprise, sat himself up on my knee and gazed around with wide eyes. We soon learned that he did not like to to be laid down in his cot. Tiny though he is he is able to sit unsupported, and he prefers to be upright so that he can see everything that is going on.

The IV line is out now. our boy is able to suck from a bottle and he loves the high calorie milk we are giving him (it is very sweet.) My little man is still sad sometimes, but he has given us a few shy smiles. How wonderful it will be to see him grow, change and fill-out over the next six months!

I'll update you on his progress

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Meet Some Of My Angels

We have 16 babies in our high care room. It's time you met some of them:

She was a tiny angel when she arrived, weighing just 1lb 12 oz. She is now thriving on Mummy's milk and weighs in at a hefty 4lb 1 oz. "The Littlest Angel" is our miracle baby; she survived for 10 days at home, without any medical intervention. When she arrived at GLA, the nurses placed her in an incubator and started her on oxygen and tube feeds. The Littlest Angel agreed to remain in her incubator but was quick to tug out her tubes. I wasn't here at the time but I imagine everyone was glad to see such a fighting spirit in such a tiny, fragile baby.

This beautiful and engaging baby boy needs lots of love and encouragement. He is a happy, flirtatious and contented little man who just loves being a baby! He enjoys lots of attention in his room, where he is busy with the business of charming all the ladies he meets!

I have a special place in my heart for a 5 month old boy
(shown here on the right.) At first, he didn't grow as he should, but with extra TLC, he is beginning to fill out. Plenty of hugs for this little man! He responds well to interaction and to stimulation.We had a pep talk last week and he really took the part about the importance of good nutrition to heart; he has increased his formula consumption by a third! He refused to try weaning foods from his nanny but was more than obliging when I offered him pureed banana! This baby may have some special needs, which just makes "Miss Susan" love him all the more.

This pretty little lady is strong, healthy and developing normally. I tend to focus my attentions on the children who are medically fragile, but there is no child here who is more or less deserving of our love and care. They are all special.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A Real Little Angel in Heaven

See this moving video of "Alicia", who became a real Little Angel the week before last. I truly believe that she knew where she was going, and that nothing would hold her back. Thank you Rhyan, for creating this production in memory of a beautiful and beloved baby.

Those of you who know me know I have a huge heart for children infected with and affected by the AIDS virus. My sympathies are with those who grieve for Alicia; I lost some precious babies to AIDS, when I worked in South Africa.

I am sure that 50 years from now, our churches will be judged on what they are doing, here and now, in response to the global HIV pandemic. Our children and grand-children will ask us to explain why, if we knew what was happening, we did nothing. My own experiences with AIDS infected children and adults have taught me that this cruel virus strikes indiscriminately. Please consider what God is leading you to do. Won't you at least pray?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Taking no chances

I have been finding my feet here over the past week, but even at this early stage, I am learning a lot about health care in Haiti.

This country does not have many medical resources, so some things are done quite differently. Last Monday, I met a 3 month old with a fever. She had a runny nose and a cough and although she wasn't showing any signs of having a chest infection,the fever was high and it persisted in spite of the medications we had given to bring it down.

The following day, Mme Bernard, who is the head nurse here,took the decision to begin treating the baby with antibiotics. In the developed world, these medications are prescribed by Doctors; here in Haiti, there is a critical shortage of medical staff and so the nurses are permitted to prescribe a number of drugs, including antibiotics, on the basis of their own assessment of a child.

We are fortunate at God's Littlest Angels to be visited by a Paediatrician once per week. She examines all the new admissions and reviews children that we are concerned about. Dr Nathalie was in support of the decision to give antibiotics to our feverish baby and asked that they be continued for a week.

In Scotland, We we would probably have waited to see how the baby's symptoms developed. In Europe, most illnesses are viral and we are concerned about the overuse of antibiotics. However, experience has taught the Haitians that “waiting and watching” can be dangerous. Most families would not be able to afford a second trip to see a Doctor if their baby became sicker and the Doctors and nurses are very aware that malnutrition leaves many Haitian children vulnerable to severe bacterial infections, which develop slowly and then suddenly become life threatening. The child mortality rate is unacceptably high in Haiti and there are no Intensive care facilities for children at the government hospitals.

So although our little angels are fortunate to have access to basic medical care at their orphanage, we can't afford to take many chances with their health.

I am pleased to report that the baby we began treating with antibiotics last week is recovering well.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

"Ike" passes by

The winds picked up between 4 am and 5 am, driving a spattering of rain against the window panes. By around 6am this morning, all was calm.

It is now 10:30am. Outside, hurricane Ike is whistling and howling through the orphanage compound.

The gate to the guest house is off its latch and clangs with every gust of wind. Leaves are rustling, branches are twisting, and the palm trees are swaying and bending.

The winds, are strong enough to take down the power lines, I am sure. The occasional bang and thud is reaching my ears, when from time to time, the winds pick up, but generally, the storm does not seem to be growing in strength.

The sky is a light gray, not too foreboding, and the mountain vista is hidden behind a veil of mist.

It is not dark. My desk lamp is on and if it goes out and I need light, I will use my “shake” powered torch.

I decided too fore go church today, but I have heard at least one vehicle leave our property. I doesn't feel as though we have been given a direct hit, but this does not diminish my concern for the people in Gonaives; the winds may not be destructive, but Haiti's water-logged soil cannot take any more water, it just cannot. UNICEF has estimated that 250, 000 people have been affected by the flooding that tropical storm Hanna brought earlier in the week. Hurricane Ike will hamper the relief efforts.

I am reminded that there are many things in this world that are out with our control. Strangely, this does not provoke anxiety in me. Certainly, I am experiencing the storm in the relative safety of the Kenscoff mountains. However, for the most part, I feel safe in the knowledge that my God is lord over everything, even the storm.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Storm Update

Apparently, news of tropical storm Hanna's impact on Haiti has reached Scotland. If I had known that, I would have updated you sooner. Please know that everyone at GLA is ok.

This particular storm took us by surprise; we had expected it to pass by Haiti, but it changed course at the last minute, catching everyone unawares.

Our staff though, responded quickly and efficiently. They got everyone and everything inside, battened down the hatches and waited until Hanna passed. Inside, daily life went on as normal.

There were some anxious moments for the grown-ups; from the second floor balcony the office staff and I cringed as we observed the a gust of wind raise the corrugated tin sheeting that shelters the area where volunteers work with the children.

Wind and rain came through the closed windows and whistled through the baby house. Doors slammed and downstairs, smaller kitchen utensils clattered.

On the first floor, the paediatrician wondered aloud how she was going to get home. I wasn't sure she would.

As we ate dinner amid high winds and torrential rain, John Bickel, who co-directs God's Littlest Angels with his wife Dixie, looked out at the palm trees whipping furiously. He nodded, and with a knowing look and a faint smile, observed that this was the worst storm he had experienced in Haiti in the 17 years he has lived here.

Later that night, part of the dining room table was flooded. A monopoly game was in progress. The players moved a few meters across the room and continued their game.

We surveyed the buildings and the surrounding area in the aftermath of the storm. We lost corrugated metal sheeting that covers one of the balconies at the orphanage. At the toddler house, the gate was damaged and they lost a satelite dish and some solar panels. In the wider community,trees were uprooted and stones walls had been toppled.

Elsewhere in Haiti, a major river in the port city of Gonavies burst its banks. Over 500 people are thought to have died in the floods. We will never know how many rural people lost their homes and crops. We have heard that humanitarian aid has began to arrive in the worst affected areas, where some homes are completely submerged and thousands of people lack access to safe drinking water and food.

At GLA, we are thankful that no-one who lives or works here was hurt. The morning after the storm, Haitians were out clearing debri that was blocking the mountain road. We have plenty of food here and water trucks continue to deliver water to our properties. Repairing the storm damage, though will be costly.

We have prayed for people who remain in the path of the storm, and we are relieved that hurricane Ike lost some power over the Atlantic on Friday.

Although hurricane Ike is not expected to take a direct hit at Haiti, the soil is waterlogged, and the rivers are all ready overflowing. Any further rain could be devastating for this country, which has been hit by 3 storms in 3 weeks.

In the meantime, life at GLA continues as normal...

Monday, 1 September 2008

My role at GLA

The view from the roof of the guest house: we are surrounded by mountains

I had my meeting with Dixie on Friday Afternoon. She would like me to focus my attentions on the babies in the high care nursery, because these little ones are the most fragile. Dixie would like me to review the babies height and weights and, she has asked that I help organize the emergency medical equipment.

I will have the opportunity to work alongside a Haitian paediatrician, who visits the orphanage one day per week. This will be a great opportunity to learn about tropical infections, how to recognise them, and how they are managed in Haiti. The Haitian nurses will also be able help me get handle on this.

They will be teaching me to site IV lines and, in return, I will do my best to pass on specific paediatric nursing knowledge that they might be lacking. There is a lot we can learn from one another.

During quiet times, I will be free to give TLC to individual babies. I will introduce you to some of them later this week. They are all beautiful; several all ready have my heart.

Specific prayer points:
  • That I will be able to develop positive relationships with the nurses and nannies.
  • That both the Haitian nurses and I will be open to the new ideas, new knowledge, new kills and new ways of working and that we will learn for one another.
  • That my presence will bless the nannies and and the babies here.
  • That God will protect our health: I had a touch of "Haitian Happiness" over the weekend (They might call it "Delhi Belly" on other continents!) It was very minor and, thanks to God, I recovered quickly.