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, 19 September 2010

Developmental Assessments

This week, I did health and developmental assessments on some of the babies at the main house. One of the babies I saw was 6 month old Darline. The information from my assessment, together with formal medical and psychological examinations will help our orphanage staff to match this gorgeous baby girl with a family on our waiting list.Darline came to GLA 2 months ago. At 8 lb, she was significantly underweight. She also had recurrent fevers, that were caused by a mild bacterial infection. My assessment of Darline last week was overwhelmingly positive. I noted that her general health was good and that she had gained almost 5lb since we admitted her to the orphanage in July. Her eating and sleeping patterns were normal for an infant of her age. She was strong, bright, alert, sociable, engaging and doing all of the things that a 6-7 month old infant should be doing.

'Focusing on people and objects and following moving objects through a 180 degree angle.......

Turning in the direction of a shaking rattle and recognising her name...........

Smiling, cooing babbling and giggling........

Rolling from her stomach onto her back and from her back onto her stomach. Sitting. Weight-bearing on her legs. Holding her own bottle. Reaching in all directions and grasping toys. Shaking a rattle. Bringing her hands and her toys to her mouth and chewing on them (this is considered a important aspect of babies development. They learn a lot through the sense of touch).'

Yes, Darline is doing all of those things. She is strong, healthy, beautiful, happy and developmentally, she is right on track. It is very encouraging to see the wonderful progress that she has made in her short time at GLA. There are many, many families who request healthy baby girls. Darline will not have to wait. Somewhere out there, a family is waiting and ready to accept her proposal!

Some of our children, though, have special needs and are not so easy to place. One of the babies I assessed this week did not turn her head to the sound of a shaking rattle. She did not respond to louder noises either. Unfortunately, I won't be able to send her for a hearing test. Our Pediatrician tells me that none of the audiologists in Haiti have the equipment needed to screen for hearing loss in children under the age of four. They are not prepared to cover the the cost of the apparatus (around $6000 USD). At this time, I have concerns about the hearing of four of our main-house children. All I can do is observe them and hope that GLA and their partner agencies will find families for these babies, despite the uncertainties we have about their current hearing and about their development.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Life-Giving Water

Every morning, just before 7am, I go up to the nurseries to take care of some early morning chores. One of the things I do is prepare special diets for babies that have milk-protein allergies or severe lactose-intolerance.

Many of the children in our care suffer from repeated and prolonged episodes of diarrhoea. This is often precipitated by exposure to viruses, bacteria, and parasites in our drinking water  that cause infection, diarrhoea, vomiting, and damage to the wall of the gut that make our children intolerant to lactose and more vulnerable to other intestinal infections. Lactose intolerance causes stomach cramps and more diarrhoea, which, impairs their ability to absorb nutrients on an ongoing basis, leading to malnutrition and impaired immune function. Chronic diarrhoea is debilitating and it is a real and present threat to children's health, If I suspect that a child's diarrhoea is being caused by or being made worse by lactose intolerance, I put that child on a lactose-free diet, so that diarrhoea and stomach cramps do not impair their appetite and their recovery.On Friday last week, I was excited to see our new water filtration system in operation at GLA's main house. Our previous filtration system was only able to treat our drinking water. We used untreated water for washing clothes, and dishes and for bathing. All of the water that came out of the taps was untreated and many people contracted diarrhoea and vomiting from this untreated water. Many of Haiti's water sources are contaminated, and at GLA, we regularly see the effects of water-borne disease.

Earlier this year, Donley, a premature baby died at GLA, from complications of gastroenteritis. Last year, we had to perform CPR on another infant who became critically ill after contracting diarrhoea. Then, in March, Baby Luc, a low-birth weight, baby became severely malnourished during a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting that almost cost him his life.

Our new water filtration system comes from Water Missions International, an organization that produces mini water treatment plants for communities in the developing world. Their system has the capacity to treat 10 gallons of water every minute. This means that we will now be able to treat all of our water through a highly effective process of filtration and chemical disinfection. The cost of running this apparatus off of our diesel-powered generator: less than $3 USD per 1000 gallons.

Up until now, we were fortunate just to have access to clean drinking water. The majority of the Haitian people are not so lucky. Many Haitian children are habitually sick from drinking contaminated water. Some become so weak from illness and malnutrition that they die.

It shouldn't be this way. I am giving thanks today, to the God who has increased our blessings, and made it possible for us to improve the health of our children. It is my hope that we will see a significant reduction in water-related disease at this orphanage, over the coming weeks and months. It is my prayer that one day soon, every Haitian child will have access to safe drinking water.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

'Nice' Clothes

'Here are some nice clothes for you', Miss Bernadette told one of our young, resident Mothers. The younger woman raised her head and looked down her nose at the scrub sets Miss Bernadette was extending towards her.

'Mesi'(Thanks), the tall, short-haired woman replied, in a low voice, and with an empty expression. Clearly, she was anything but grateful. Miss Bernadette is only a few years older than the sullen young woman in front of her, but she was anything but discouraged. Her smile was unwavering, and her tone was warm. 'We do not wear shorts in this house,' Miss Bernadette explained.

The 'nice' clothes, nursing scrubs, were to replace shorts that were so short that they exposed the woman's thighs. She nodded, lowered her eyes and took the scrubs from Miss Bernadette. Now she understood: they might not be stylish, but all of the nursery staff wore them. The ladies here were making it easy for the young mother to conform to their standards of modesty. As a guest in this house, she was willing to conform to those standards.

Many foreigners consider Haitian fashion backwards. Haiti is a country in which women outside of the cities and the city suburbs prefer to wear skirts and dresses, which are usually knee length. Men are rarely seen out in public topless, and shoulders, busts and mid-rifts are not display. I like that.

Of course, Western fashions do have an influence in Haiti. At God's Littlest Angels, our Haitian staff are exposed to dozens of Christian missionaries as well as visitors from Europe and North America. Many of these Western Christians have far looser standards of modesty than the Haitians do. One of the things that impresses me about the ladies here, and about Haitian Christians in general, is that they hold fast to their own standards. I love that and I respect that. After all, the ways of the world are always changing, but as Christians, we are not supposed to be 'of the world'. Instead, we are called to honour a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

As Bernadette clocked off shift tonight, wearing a knee length skirt and a short-sleeved blouse, I remembered her exchange with our resident Mum, and I was proud of her. I wish I had told Bernadette how pretty she looked. Maybe she doesn't need my encouragement, but I think she deserved it.