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, 28 February 2010

Light In The Darkness

Fully clothed in nappy, baby-grow and knitted cap, he weighs 3lb 14oz. His Grand-mother wanted him dead. His mother and his extended family defied the old woman, so that he might live.

Born in a tin shack, with a dirt floor, he was destined to die there, unknown. The reason: Luc's Grand-mother did not like his Father. She administered a lime based substance to the new Mother's breasts to dry up her milk. Our Haitian staff tell me that this is a common voodoo practice.

When family members fed the tiny boy crackers, mixed with milk, to nourish him, the furious Grand-mother shut Luc away in a locked room. She would not be thwarted.

Luc's Aunt called relatives in Thomassin (the area in which God's Littlest Angels in based.) They made the long trip, over the mountains, and removed the baby from a house where he would have died a slow, painful death by dehydration.

The family knew about our newborn ministry, and delivered Luc into our hands. Miraculously, after his 8 day ordeal, this tiny, low birth-weight boy is only slightly dehydrated.

Luc was born into a cruel world, full of dark superstition, where grown-up wrath is spent on innocent children every day. This sickens me to my stomach, but I am encouraged by one thing: Luc's family took a stand against evil. Here is a story, that puts the passion in compassion, and a baby who survived to be light in the darkenss.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Sweeter Than Honey, More Precious Than Gold

This is the reason for the hope that is in me:

On Tuesday afternoon, 12 month old Clercineau was admitted from a rescue centre in Cazalle, a rural area, North of Port-au-Prince. He weighed 5lb 7oz.

He was severely emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. The staff at the clinic had been unable to get him to drink, and had sited a feeding tube.

That first night, we worked on stabilizing Clercineau, giving him fluids and electrolytes. By the morning, he was rehydrated, and sucking soy formula from a bottle. His weight had gone up by 7 oz and he looked much, much better.

We hoped Clercineau might live, and we believed it might be possible, yet we also knew that there were no guarantees for such a fragile infant.

Last night, Clercineau's volunteer, Miss Vicky, who works with him one-on-one from 8am-5pm, expressed concern. He would not drink at all. When I examined him, I found that he had a fever and he was slightly dehydrated. We decided that Clercineau needed another feeding tube.

Overnight, Clercineau removed the tube, and began drinking on his own again. I weighed him this morning: 6lb 3.5oz!

As I congratulated our champion on this fantastic achievement, he smiled. 'Wi,' I nodded, 'bon travay ti Gason!' (good work little man!)

Clercineau returned the nod, with a shy grin, and his eyes shone. Oh, my goodness, it was sweeter than honey, and more precious than gold! You see, when a severely malnourished baby smiles, you know that there is a healing on the inside, and a will to live.

We continue to pray that Clercineau will gain weight, day-by-day becoming stronger and healthier. Today, we pray with faith - we know that the God we canot see is at work in this tiny boy's life. Without God, surely, Clercineau would not have survived to be 12 months old, with a weight of 5lb.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

New Arrivals From Cazale

Late this morning, I traveled out to Cazale, to collect two children from a mission, situated at the foot of some rocky hills. Their buildings have been damaged, they are operating under tarps, and they are overwhelmed by earthquake trauma cases.
We travelled along a dry and dusty road that wound through a wilderness of scrub land, reaching Real Hope For Haiti around mid-day. On route, we passed dozens of make-shift dwellings: sheets and tarpaulins, draped over sticks, hastily thrown up along the road-side by families whose homes were destroyed by last months earthquake.

A week ago, we received baby Valentina from Real Hope for Haiti, and I shared with you that hers was the most severe case of malnutrition I have ever seen. At a month old, she weighed 3lb 12 ounces. Today, I received 12 month old Clercineau. He was admitted to Real hope for Haiti when he was 4 months old. He weighed 3.17 pounds then. Today, he weighs 5lb 7oz, and newborn clothing swamps his skeletal frame.
Nurse Lori, who heads up the mission Clinic in Cazale, explained that Clercineau's sister had been admitted to their malnutrition clinic four times during infancy and early childhood. Today, Clercineau's sister is 10 years old and the size of the average European two three old. Lori suspects that the children in this family have a genetic condition that stunts their growth.

When I arrived at GLA with Clercineau this afternoon, our nannies were reduced to tears at the sight of his twig-limbs and the parchment-thin skin covering his bones. The staff at Real Hope for Haiti sited a feeding tube - Clercineau has not been feeding from a bottle during the 2 weeks of his re-admitted to their malnutrition centre. Clercineau drank three ounces in his first hour in the Kenscoff mountains. He sucks well and seems hungry. These are promising signs.

I have asked Miss Vicky, a retired American nurse, to care for Clercineau one-on-one. It will be interesting to see whether he begins to thrive with consistent, loving care.

Our second medical admission from Real Hope for Haiti is three day old Donley. His mother died shortly after delivering this beautiful but petite 4lb boy. Developmentally, Donley behaves like a full-term baby.We believe that his growth was retarded in the womb. It was my pleasure to feed Donley his first bottle of milk today. With good nutrition, he should begin to grow and gain weight. He will then return home, into the care of an Aunt.

Update: Clercineau's recovery from his malnutrition was uneventful and he returned to Cazale, aged 2. His 10 year old sister was diagnosed with HIV in 2012. She died of AIDS a few months later. Both the children's parents tested negative for the virus. That means that in all likelihood, Clercineau's sister was raped by a man from her community. To the best of my knowledge,  she never spoke of being sexually assaulted. She did speak of ritualistic abuse - in an attempt to heal her, her parents engaged the services of a voodoo priest. I continue to pray for Clercineau's safety

Sunday, 21 February 2010

An Oasis in the Desert

At God's Littlest Angels, we have all endured a great deal of loss over the past four weeks. For us, each new arrival signifies new hope - a chance to sooth someone else's hurts. It is in reaching out to these suffering little ones, that our own hearts begin to heal.

On Friday, our orphanage Director was given temporary custody of 32 children, who have been in the care of BRESMA orphanage in Port-au-Prince. This is the same orphanage that transferred Peterson into our care on Wednesday.

Their buildings were badly damaged by the magnitude 7 earthquake that stuck Haiti on the 12th of January this year. BRESMA's children have been living outside, and the orphanage staff have not been able to supply adequate food and medicine to them. The Director of the BRESMA orphanage has become increasingly concerned for the welfare of these children, who have been exposed to nightly rainfall over the past week.

Most of the youngest children (under the age of three) are sick. They show signs of recent weight loss, and they have ear infections, chest infections, parasites and diarrhoea. Four of the babies, including Peterson, were in Hospital on Friday,They joined us at GLA yesterday, as soon as they are discharged.

I feel so blessed that were we able to welcome these children into God's Littlest Angels. We can provide them with safe drinking water, nutritious food, and round the clock care from our nurses and nannies, together with play opportunities and schooling.

This 10 month old girl was among the new arrivals. She weighs just over 12lb. It seems as though she is a failure to thrive baby; she has not been gaining weight over the past few months. This beautiful baby girl has scabies, a troublesome cough, and an ear infection.

I have enrolled her on our malnutrition programme. She will be receiving high calorie milk, enriched peanut butter and supplemental vitamins. She will also receive medicines for her skin condition and her ear infection. She is very hungry, and eats very well, so I am sure that she will recover soon.

It is so good to have these children here; to love them, hug them, hold them, heal them. They have been through such a lot in the past month and a half. They arrived like wanderers in the desert; tired and desperatey thirsty. They have certainly found their oasis.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Now You Know...

Shortly before 4am on Friday morning, Roslin, one of our night nurses, gave Valentina a tube feeding. I had collected this baby from missionaries who work in the Haitian countryside, the day before. She was barely clinging on to life then.

We began giving Valentina small volumes of milk through a feeding tube. She had tolerated these feeds well, and seemed comfortable. Yet a few minutes after her 4am feeding, Valentina's heart stopped beating. She was just too weak and too frail, and her tiny body, ravaged by starvation, could not recover.

I know that Valentina is in a better place, yet my heart hurts. On one level, this is another loss, compounding so many others. And I can't help looking back over the last two weeks, a period in which, we have lost three tiny lives, and not think to my self, they are all dying.

I hurt for Valentina, because there is no doubt that this baby's short life was filled with pain and suffering. Unfortunately, there is also no doubt, that Valentina's is not an isolated case.

Babies died of starvation in Haiti before the earthquake. Yesterday, Valentina became another statistic. Today, tomorrow, and every day this year, more lives will be lost to hunger in this country. Maybe you didn't know that a month ago, but you know now. The earthquake has turned the eyes of the world upon Haiti. You have seen the suffering of these children. Please do not turn your back on them.
To donate to God's Littlest Angels, please click here.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Lest The World Forgets...

Peterson arrived at God's Littlest Angels yesterday. A month ago, he weighed 16lb. Four weeks later, he is down to 9.5lb.

He came to us from an orphanage that was badly damaged by the magnitude 7 earthquake that rocked Haiti on the 12th of January. The children at that orphanage have been sleeping outside, and they have not been receiving adequate food or even the most basic of medicines.

Peterson has pneumonia, profuse diarrhoea and a heavy infestation of worms. Had he not been transferred to God's Littlest Angels, I don't not believe he would have lived to see the weekend. He was on IV fluids up until this morning. It is very important that we begin re-nourishing this baby, who is so weak that he can barely open his eyes.

Meludrine is two years old. She weighs 17lb and was admitted last night. She is tiny for her age and she has a very bad case of infected scabies. Her Father wants to give her up for adoption. He says that he has no choice. The little girl's Mother died as a result of injuries she sustained during the earthquake and he says that he cannot provide for his daughter. Meludrine is being treated for her skin condition. We hope that she will feel safe here and that she will adjust well to orphanage life.

Baby Valentine was born shortly after the earthquake, to a teen aged Mother who has severe mental health problems. Valentine has been in the care of relatives and hasn't received a single drop of milk since her birth; even if her Aunt had the money to buy formula, she wouldn't have found any on the empty shelves of Haiti's stores. These are precarious days for orphaned infants.

Valentines is the worst case of malnutrition I have ever seen. She weighs 3lb 12 oz. There isn't an ounce of fat on her tiny frame. I can count every rib, and every vertebrae in her spine. She is severely dehydrated and also severely anaemic.

I travelled into the Haitian countryside today to collect Valentine. She managed to tolerate 40 ml of oral rehydration solution through a feeding tube, during the two hours it took for us to reach GLA.. Tonight, we will slowly introduce milk feeds. Valentine is starving to death. It is a miracle that she survived a month, receiving only small amounts of fruit puree. It will take another miracle, for Valentine's embattled body to tolerate nutrition. When she arrived at GLA, her heart beat was slow and irregular. That is not a good sign, and yet, she is alive, and she is breathing, and so there is hope, I promise you that.

Peterson, Meludrine and Valentine; three names, three faces, three stories. Multiply their misery a hundred thousand times over, if you can. That is what you need to do, to come close to conceiving the suffering of Haiti's children.

As the attention of the world media shifts away from our beautiful but beleaguered nation, please do not forget the continued suffering, and ongoing need. I urge you to pray about how you should respond to the crisis in this country.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

In The Arms of An Angel

Peter, our premature baby, developed breathing problems yesterday afternoon. He began gasping, and although he was working very hard to breathe, he just couldn't draw air down into his lungs. Babies who are born several weeks premature often do not produce surfactant, a substance that lubricates their lungs. As a result, their lungs become stiff and this makes it difficult for them to breathe.

For 12 hours, Nurse Claudia and I took turns breathing for Peter, using an ambu bag. All thorough the night, we marvelled at the phenomenal strength of this 2lb boy; flailing and trying to suck on his face-mask and fighting to breathe by himself the entire time.

This morning, at 6:15 after a long struggle, Baby Peter lost his battle for life and flew away from us, in the arms of an angel.

His Mother was not surprised. 'The earthquake shook my belly hard,' she said, in a thin, trembling voice, that told the story of a woman shaken to her very core. We have heard that in the aftermath of this disaster, scores of pregnant ladies delivered their babies prematurely. Many of their labours seems to have progressed very rapidly, and a number of these woman suffered major hemorrhages and died.

Peter is the second preterm infant that we have lost since last month's earthquake. We really had been hopeful that he would survive. He was so strong, and he had made such good progress in the week that he was with us. He overcame hypothermia, low blood sugars, and apnoea.

As Christians, we hold fast to a particular biblical passage; 'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,' (Romans 8:28). We trust that God sees things that we don't see, and knows things that we don't know. Yet, this is another tragedy, and another loss, and that is really difficult to deal with.

My hope at this point, after talking things through with our Director, is that one day, we might be able to obtain a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP helps premature babies with their breathing, but it is much less invasive than a ventilator. We believe that if we had a CPAP machine, and were properly trained to use it, we could save the lives of many babies, like Peter, whose only problem was that his lungs were not developed enough to enable him to survive outside of the womb.

I am praying that someone will donate a CPAP machine and come to show us how and when to use it very soon.

Monday, 15 February 2010

An Exhausted Baby Peter Fights On

The Haitian nurses and I have been praying around the clock for Baby Peter. Saturday was a very difficult night for him - for several hours, Nurse Claudia had to stimulate Peter constantly to keep him breathing. I turned up Peter's oxygen, since a slightly higher flow of oxygen in their nasal passages can support premature infants' airways. This made a difference for a few hours, but Peter was tiring.

Late morning: the foreign staff went out to church, while I stayed behind to care for Peter. Our little man was exhausted at this point and it was getting more and more difficult to rouse him during each apnoea. His blood oxygen level was falling each time he stopped breathing and he would turn blue. He was showing signs of respiratory failure. It didn't look good.

I didn't feel a sense of panic, what I did have was a strong desire to see Peter live, and a real emotional investment in his survival, and so I took that to the lord in prayer. I felt led to give Peter a breathing treatment. I administered that, and I waited...

Shortly before 11am, Peter turned a corner. His heart rate shot up and he began flailing his arms and legs, protesting at our efforts to keep him awake and alive. From somewhere, he found that strength to flight. He opened his eyes and looked at us. There was an intense expression in those eyes; please, just let me be!

For the entire afternoon, I was able to do just that. Peter breathed steadily, rhythmically and without ceasing, right up until the point that I handed him over into the care of the night nurses.

We do not have any high tech equipment to support the tiny, fragile bodies of the premature babies in our NICU, but we do have our God; all knowing, all loving, wise, waiting to hear from us and ready to answer. In him, all things are possible.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Breath Baby!

Tonight, as I was finishing my rounds in the 'Big Nursery', where our 1-2 year olds live, one of the NICU nannies called me to 'come see something'.

I followed her into the NICU and what I saw was our preemie baby, Peter. He was not breathing and he was navy blue! Our nannies, to their credit, were trying to stimulate him. They are not used to handling incubator babies. They are afraid that these fragile infants might break in their hands.

Peter was born 10 weeks early, 4 days ago. Like many babies who are arrive 2 and a half months before their 'due dates', this little one finds gets tired easily. His immature brain is not always able to regulate his breathing, especially when he drifts off to sleep. Breathing should be an automatic reflex but in Peter's case, that reflex has not fully developed. Tonight, as he dozed, he 'forgot' to breath.

Thankfully, after less a minute of resuscitation, Peter began showing signs of life and was taking some breaths on his own. We are very lucky to have Injectable Caffeine and we gave Peter a dose of this medication. It stimulates premature babies brains to 'remind' them to breath.

Caffeine is a simple drug, that is not easily available in Haiti. It may save Peter's life.

Please pray that his tiny body will remain strong enough to get Peter through the next few weeks. During that time, his organ systems will mature and his hold on life will no longer be so tentative.

Peter recovered quikly from his episode tonight. Within minites, he opened his eyes and moved around. He is doing well. His poor Mummy though, is very anxious - still trembling. We have done our best to reassure her, but I think it will take a while for her frazzled nerves to settle.

Fasting and Prayer

'If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.' (2 Chronicles 7:14).

In this nation, the lead-up to lent is usually marked by a period of Carnival. The partying at this time is raucous, with lots of alcohol consumed. There is a great deal of immorality, and the festivities are often marked by violence.

This year, the Haitian people are fore-going Carnival. Instead, Haitian Christians have committed to three days of fasting and prayer.

I do not believe for a moment, that the Haitians are suffering as a consequence of any sin they have committed, but I do believe that God is present, and that he is moving in this place, and that he is willing and able to raise Haiti and her suffering children from the ashes, if he is invited in.

I also believe that the Haitian people are fulfilling the requisites to God's promise, as they are set out in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Please know that despite what some members of the International press are reporting, this is not a period of mourning. The fasting and prayer are for the living. Among the beautiful, rising and falling acapella harmonies that rang throughout our orphanage and the surrounding community yesterday, there were lyrics such as these;

'We have survived....'

'We need you always, when the sun shines and when the wind blows....'

Surely God hears his people. Surely he is pleased by their sacrifice. Surely he will give 'beauty for ashes.'

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A Child-like Faith

Baby Peter is off of his oxygen. We started feeding him some breast milk yesterday, using a tube that runs down his nose, and into his stomach. He sucks well on his pacifier but his brain is not developed enough to co-rdinate sucking, swallowing and breathing. We started him off on 2ml of milk every 2 hours. Tonight, he is managing 4ml every 2 hours.Snuggling 'skin-to-skin' with his Mummy. This is a special experience for both Mum and baby. Peter is completely contentented as he nestlles between his Mum's breasts, listening to the steady and familiar sound of her heart beat.

'Sometimes when we take tiny babies like Peter, away from their Mothers, and put them in incubators, they become sorrowful..... They miss the sound of their mother's voice. They need to hear their Mothers, and smell them, and feel their touch..... See how happy Peter is with you!'

Peter's Mother nodded, smiling shyly. Her expression displayed a rare openness. She is such a special lady. So loving, so calm, so trusting. She believes that God, all knowing, allowed her tiny son to be born a full 2 and a half months before he was supposed to come into the world. She doesn't question why. She just trusts that God sent both of them here, and that we know what to do for Peter.

Rural Haitians have a wonderful, innocent faith in their God. It is a faith, just like my Nana's. My Nana died 12 years ago and now, a world away, there are reminders of her everywhere.

Rain Fall

I awoke with a start in the early hours of this morning. First there was a pitter patter, faster and faster, and then a pelting. Oh, no!

Rain was falling. I immediately sent up a prayer. 'God, please make it stop.' Half a million people, maybe more are sleeping on the ground in the streets of Port-au-Prince and Petion-ville. Not to mention countless thousands who lie under tarpaulins in places like the football field on Thomassin 25, close to our orphanage.

Mercifully, within a few minutes, the rain stopped falling on our mountain community. Our Haitian Staff, though, tell me that Delmas was drenched in the down pour. Everyone; men, women, children, and tiny babies were soaked through. Many had only the clothes on their backs!

The spring rains will begin falling in April. In Haiti, the rainy season will not come softly. It will be torrential in its onslaught.

In the dead of night, the first rains since the earthquake roused hundreds of thousands of homeless Haitians. It was the rudest of awakenings; cities full of displaced people, scurrying for shelter. The streets were pitch black, and ankle deep with water in some places, washing debris into the paths of those who fled for shelter. Some were hurt as they blindly scampered in the dark.

When I think of the masses of humanity, scurrying, stunned and shivering, something inside me breaks. I have never, in all my life dreaded spring time. How many people will become ill from exposure to the elements, in a country where it is impossible for the people on the streets to find the most basic of medicines? Many will not find a Doctor or a clinic. Not an aspirin to bring down a fever. Not even a safe place to lay their heads. It is truly appalling.

I have never, in all my life dreaded springtime. Now, oh, how I wish the dry winter would persist a few more months.

God's Littlest Angels is collecting tents, blankets, wind up lanterns, water tight tubs and other relief supplies. These items will make a tremendous difference, to countless families who have lost their homes, and have no protection from the rains.

If you feel moved to help, please go to our website and find out how you can support our earthquake relief efforts.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Trickle, Not A Flood

Exactly 4 weeks ago today, Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7 earthquake. Within a matter of weeks, over 130 of our children were evacuated to the countries their adoptive families are resident in.

We expected a flood of new admissions; children orphaned, injured or displaced by this disaster. What we are seeing, though, is a trickle, rather than a flood of very young infants whose parents bring them to our gate, asking that we take the babies in for temporary care or that we admit them with a view to adoption.
On Sunday, we received three month old Jerrensia into our baby house. Her Mother told us that the baby's father had died during the earthquake and that she couldn't provide for her new baby. Seeing this beautiful, fat, healthy infant who was clean, well dressed and contented in her Mother's arms, our Director couldn't help wondering whether this little one might be better off staying with her family. Jerrensia's Mother and Grandmother were thoroughly counselled, but they remained adamant that they wished to place her with us for adoption.

Minutes after Jerrensia's family left, our NICU nannies unwrapped the baby. They found that she had severely malformed lower legs and club feet. In Haiti, disability carries a huge amount of stigma. It is likely that Jerrencia's Mother gave her up for this reason and that she didn't tell us about her condition because she was afraid that if she did, we wouldn't take her.

At God's Littlest Angels,though, this special baby was quickly taken under the wing of our NICU nannies, who, declared her bright, beautiful and perfectly capable of day. Honestly, I am not sure that will be possible, but I think that our Haitian staff need to believe in possibility just now, and so I will not say a word that might crush their hopes for Jerrensia.

Tonight, we received another new baby. Peter was born around 10 weeks prematurely at the Baptist Mission Hospital in Fermathe. The staff at the Mission tell us that they are seeing a notable increase in the numbers of woman who have miscarried or gone into premature labour since last months earthquake. I can only imagine the torment of expectant Haitian Mothers in these frightening and uncertain times.

Peter is extremely fragile, but there are some factors that bode well for him: firstly, he weighs 2 pounds and 12 ounces, which is a good weight for a baby born at 28 weeks gestation. Secondly, his mother was given IV steroids at the onset of her labour; this will help mature Peter's lungs, giving him a much better chance of survial. Thirdly, he was transferred here quickly, and wasn't hypothermic for too long.

Peter is on oxygen and IV fluids just now and we have placed him in an incubator. We will be very, very careful in our management of this little boy. Although we lost baby Judeline a week ago - a preemie girl who was older and more mature than our newest boy - we choose to be hopeful for Peter. Those of you who pray, please lift this little one up to God, and ask him to strengthen Peter's tiny body, so that he might live, and grow and thrive.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Return To 'Normality'.

Friday brought some difficult decisions. We had a full complement of nannies; 24 working the day shift and 2 working the night shift. Unfortunately there were just 18 children at GLA. Things were not going well; many of the nannies, having nothing to do, were slipping into a depression.

Our childcare staff are used to working 14 hour days, 4 days a week, with 85 children. Now, they were lying on their beds and sitting on chairs. With too much time to think about all they had lost, they wore dazed expressions. Apathy was setting in, and as the days passed, the babies became more and more fractious and irritable. Something had to change.

We gave this much thought, and came to the conclusion, with regret, that we would have to send some of our staff home. We wrestled with the numbers, and the thoughts in our heads. Must she go? Really? This lady is so good with the children...and this one is such a hard worker....

In the end, just 12 of our senior nannies remain. Those who were asked to leave did not argue or put up any kind of fight. Many of them are struggling with the psychological impact of the earthquake. All have lost family members and most have lost there homes and are sleeping in make-shift shelters. They talk of many deeply distressing things that they witness on the city streets.

I am sure that many of our Haitian staff feel unable to cope with work at this point, and would rather be with their families. Their kind of brokenness will take time to heal. They have been sent home on half pay. We hope to be able to call them back to work, one-by-one, as more children arrive.

We have closed our step-down nursery, and consolidated the remaining children and staff into our largest nursery.This nursery usually holds 50 children. There are just 12 there today. Each of the nannies have been assigned 2 children.

These ladies have excellent childcare skills, and they are doing a fantastic job of loving our little ones, and maintaining their routine. The babies are enjoying lots of individualized attention. The change in them, has been truly wonderful to behold. They are happy, smiling and playful; proof, I think, that we made some good decisions regarding their on-going care.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Charlene Is Re-united With Her Family.

Bright and early yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of kissing 5 year old Charlene goodbye.
Our delightful, precocious little girl was so excited that she could barely stand still!

Charlene came to us from the US Navy Comfort Ship Hospital after being injured, then separated from her family during the earthquake.

The staff at God's Littlest Angels turned their efforts towards reuniting this lost child with her parents. The task , in this case was not to difficult; Charlene was able to give our social worker her full name and address, and the names of the church and school she attends.

GLA staff visited these locationsand spoke to her pastor and her neighbours. Knowing that the Haitian people are listening to their radios day and night, earnestly hoping to hear news of loved ones, we also gave some of Charlene's details, and ours to the local radio stations. On Thursday morning, Charlene's Father received the news he had been praying for; his only daughter was waiting for him at an orphanage in the Kenscoff mountains. He made plans to travel here to come and take her home.

'It's not really true!', Charlene exclaimed when our office worker, Melanie, broke the news to her.

'It is true Charelene! It is!' we re-assured her.

God's Littlest Angels is very experienced at finding missing birth families and we have successfully re-united two families in post-earthquake Haiti. We very much hope that UNICEF will recognize that displaced children would be safe and well cared for at our orphanage. At present, they are refusing to allow clinics and hospitals in Port-au-Prince to refer displaced children to God's Littlest Angels because, historically, our main ministry has centred around adoption. Adoption, though is our last resort in caring for children who have been separated from their families. We would like to provide temporary care to infants and toddlers who have been diplaced or made homeless by the earthquake, untiltheir surviving family members are located.

As Charlene danced around our living room, we gave instructions to her father about dressing the wound on her foot. We sent him home with one of our emergency relief kits containing food, hygiene supplies, blankets, towels, a tarpaulin and a wind up lantern.

What a satisfying ending to the story; a family together again. 'We will be praying for you, Charlene, please pray for us as well.' Charlene promised that she would!

Photographs and video courtesy of God's Littlest Angels: To make a donation please follow this link

Thursday, 4 February 2010

As Simple and Wonderful As That

None of us could 'fix' pre-earthquake Haiti, and now, in the aftermath of the disaster, with so many devastated lives, it is all to easy to become overwhelmed.

Yet when a stressed and traumatized three month old boy melted in my arms this afternoon, I became lost in the moment.

For that moment, just that moment, as he smiled and cooed, all was right in my world, and his.

And I was reminded that we are doing the only thing anyone can; focussing on the need before us, and meeting it as best we are able.

The most exciting and encouraging thing is this - all we did for JJ was provide basic care. That and love. Those were the only things he needed. It really was that simple.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Let The Little Children Come

At God's Littlest Angel's, we have been wondering whether we will actually be able to serve vulnerable children; orphaned, displaced or made homeless by the earthquake.

UNICEF's current policy of hearding all displaced children into tent cities in Port-au-Prince, prevents us from reaching children from the capital city, who have presented at hospitals and clinics after they have been separated from their parents. With just 16 children under our roof yesterday, the possibility of having to lay off some of our orphanage staff was a very real threat, that filled us with dread.

However, with the arrival of 5 children this week, it has become apparent that children in need will continue to reach our gate, just as they always have.

Our first arrival on Monday was a beautiful baby boy. His Mother reported that her house had fallen 'when the earth shook', and that the father of her new son - the baby is just a month old -had died. She does not have the means to raise him and cannot bear to see him suffer. We will try to find a permanent family for this baby boy.

Then today, all at once, the main house was blessed with 4 little ones.

Baby N is a dainty 5lb 7oz oz girl; a little doll, who has been relinquished for adoption. She will be matched with a family as soon as the Haitian government begins processing adoptions again.
We also received a set of brothers into our baby house. Their mother is alive, but the family are now homeless and the boys' father is not involved in their lives. They are both in need of medical treatment and they are here for temporary care, while their mother tries her utmost to re-build some semblance of a decent life for them.

JJ is three months old. The first thing we noticed about him was his gorgeous smile. The second thing - he arches his back, extends his neck, and he cannot hold his head up. He likes to keep his arms tightly flexed, with his hands fisted. These can be signs of neurological problems. Neglected and traumatized infants, though, sometimes develop abnormal muscle posture in response to the stress in their lives. JJ is a bright baby and his world has certainly been chaotic lately. We hope that in a secure environment, where all his needs will be met, he will relax and develop normally.

JJ's brother is 15 months old and weighs just over 15lb. The loose skin hanging like an oversized suit from his tiny frame, tells an all too common tale of weight loss. His hands and feet are beginning to swell; a sign that he hasn't been getting enough protein. He has a cough and a swollen gland. He is not feverish but we started him on an antibiotic anyway; malnourished children are very susceptible to infection and often, their bodies are too weak to mount a response to illness. We will watch this toddler very closely. The early signs are promising; he is hungry and eating well.
His brittle, thinning hair, that should be thick, black and shiny reveals that this baby, like many others in Haiti, was suffering from malnutrition before the earthquake; his family, all ready struggling to survive, cannot even scrape by now.

Last, there is 9 month old boy, S. His mother brought him here because he is sick and she is living on the streets and cannot access medical care for him. Unfortunately she is not able to stay here with her baby. He is very upset and anxious to be separated from her. He is used to being breast-fed and he is refusing all food and liquids that we offer him. This poor little man was absolutely inconsolable tonight; we did our best to comfort him anyway.

He has a bad cough, diarrhoea and vomiting. We are rehydrating him with a feeding tube and we will start him on an antibiotic.

Three weeks living in a tent city has taken it's toll on these little ones. Food and safe drinking water is scarce. Overcrowding is a problem and people do not have adequate shelter. It is the children who are affected the most. Starvation is a very real threat and diarrhoeal illnesses and respiratory conditions are spreading rapidly.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Late this morning, our social worker came up to the NICU with good news. We have been caring for a little boy, who is thought to be around ten years old. He was admitted to General Hiospital in Port-au-Prince after his house collapsed around him during the earthquake of January the 12th. The Hospital was ovewhelmed and Harry was transferred to the Comfort Ship. At that point he became separated from his Mother.

'My Father died, but Mummy did not,' he told me through tears. I promised him that we would do our very best to find his Mummy. For over a week, our adoption staff have been doing just that.

Well this morning, Harry's mother saw his face on one of the posters that our Director had put up on the walls of the General Hopsital. When Harry, who has soft tissue injuries affecting his left arm and foot, returned from a check up at the local mission Hospital, a wide grin spread across his face. His Mummy was right there, waiting for him!

We sent Harry and his Mother home with medications for pain and swelling and a relief pack containing food, blankets, a tarpaulin and hygeine items. A delighted Harry kissed me good bye, as his Mother promised to visit in three weeks time; Harry will attend the Baptist Mission Hospital in Fermathe to be reviewed by an orthopaedic surgeon later this month.

God's Littlest Angels Director, Dixie Bickel, explains to Harry that his Mother called us after seeing his face on one of the many posters that GLA staff put up in Port-au-Prince.
This was the happiest of goodbye's - a mother and son reunited. Dixie and all the staff at God's Littlest Angles would like to make family re-unification our new mission, in post earthquake Haiti.

Tonight, we said another goodbye. This time, with tears of sorrow welling in our eyes. Shortly after 6pm, the NICU nannies called me to see our premature baby, Judeline. When I got upstairs, she was blue and she wasn't breathing. We tried to resucitate her but we were unsuccessful.

On Sunday night, I shared that I would not place my hope in Judeline being a miracle baby. Experience is a hard teacher, and I have learned in my short time in Haiti, that premature babies who are hypothermic (very cold) for long periods of time, usually stabilize for a few days after we warm them up, and then become very sick. The 'cold stress' damages their immature organs.This morning, Judeline's abdomen was swollen; it was an ominous sign.

We did what we could to support her frail little body, but in the end, the best medical care Haiti could offer just was not enough to save this beautiful, and perfect baby, who was just born too soon, and in the wrong place. I do not doubt that had she been born in a developed country, she would have lived. The sad fact of the matter is that many Haitian babies are born prematurely and with low birth weights, mainly due to lack of pre-natal care. There are very few Neonatal Intensive Care beds, and so many tiny lives are lost needlessly.

Judeline is just one of the thousands of Haitian babies who will die this year, in a country in which 20% of infants do not live to see their first birthday.

I know the statistics, and I protected my heart, but I still would have liked a miracle - the kind you can see and hear and touch.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Darkness and Light

'My cousin is lost.'

Her eyes were flat with grief and exhaustion. We were sitting in a nursery that now has just two children, one of them being her son. That leaves twelve empty beds. Twelve children in that room who have left GLA in the wake of the magnitude 7 earthquake. Many of my Haitian colleagues have lost 10-12 family members in the earthquake. As her gaze swept the room, she barely shook her head.

'You mean they didn't find him yet?' I enquired.

'I think they probably took his body away.' she replied. There was no expression on her face. Her shoulders sagged. 'Maybe they burned it... and I can't cry anymore. There are no tears left in Haiti.'

Yet five minutes later, as she recounted the story of another cousin, who, was found dead under the rubble of a collapsed house, her voice trembled. The family had wanted to bury the lady in her wedding dress, but her corpse was too bloated for that. They laid the dress on top of her, as her middle-aged mother ranted that her daughter had been cursed.'

This was not witch craft we agreed. Nor was it a judgement from God. And then, tears began to spill from eyes that are not quite dry yet.


'We will not call her that!'

Madame Bernard was very firm with the parents of our new premature baby. They could not name their little girl 'Casablanca', because that meant, 'White House' in Spanish. That just is not an 'appropriate' name for a Haitian baby.

'She is a pretty little girl,' Madame Bernard chided, 'So find a pretty name for her!'

My Haitian colleagues could not contain their laughter. There was mirth dancing in my eyes, I am sure, and a giggle under the surface, but I did manage to keep a straight face as our NICU nanny, Ginette, helped the parents find an 'appropriate' name.

'What are your names? What about your surnames? ...... And the names of the grandparents.' There are, of course, lots of things to consider when naming a baby. Our Haitian staff were sure to to impress the gravity of the decision on the parents of the child, who, after all, would have to live with the name they chose for the rest of her life.

The Father's name, it transpired, was Jude. Ginette thought for a second. 'Then why not call her Judeline' she suggested, the idea coming forth from her mouth as it was formed in her mind. Her thought processes in putting this name together are so Haitian. I love that!

'Judeline?' The mother repeated. 'Zhood-leen...' She glanced at the baby's father, who signalled his approval with a nonchalant shrug.

'Yes' the Mother, said, 'Let's call her Judeline.

Are you sure? Ginette asked. The decission was not one to be taken lightly.

'Susan,' Mme Bernard announced, 'This baby is called Judeline.' I had heard the entire conversation. I was right there, feeding the baby.'

'It's decided then?' I asked

'Yes Mme Bernard declared, in a tone of that said, the choice was entirely theirs, as it should be, 'Yes, the parents have decided.'

On one side there is so much darkness; death, the morbid and macabre, loss, hunger, grief, homelessness and vulnerability. On the other, a reason to laugh, babies born, choices made, enterprising vendors, selling dried plantain chips and souvenirs to journalists and aid workers in Port-au-Prince. Life in Haiti, in a very fundamental way, continues as it always has.

There is a source of light, springing forth from some deeply rooted and primitive part of our humanity. Today we embraced that light, despite the encroaching darkness.