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, 26 December 2010

A Touch Of Christmas' Magic'

There are things about Sperancia, who just turned two, that worry those of us who work with her. Sperancia is afraid of many things, and she often shows signs of extreme anxiety. There are two working theories about Sperancia. One medical professional who assessed her thinks that she might be on the autistic spectrum. The other suspects that she has been abused.

When I took Sperancia up to the third floor balcony yesterday, to open Christmas gifts with the other baby house children, I did so with reservations. Sure enough, seeing the large group of babies up there, she sensed that something out of the ordinary was happening and she began to howl.

I lifted her up onto a wicker sofa, wiped her tears, and, pressing my hands either side of her face, re-assured her that everything was all right. Staying close-by, I invited her just to watch, as the other little ones tore through the brightly coloured tissue paper, to reveal teddy bears, dolls, and soft balls. With her thumb in her mouth, Sperancia observed them intently.

One boy cheered as he unwrapped a fabric book. Another, Elverson, backed away from the teddy bear that he had unwrapped, doubt and trepidation dancing across his face. What was that thing? Would it move? He didn't want to be close to it if it did!

The owner of the fabric book swapped gifts with Elverson. There was no prompting. The older boy was not afraid of teddy bears, but he recognised and responded to the fear of the younger boy with an empathy and grace that touched me.

Sperencia watched the other babies unwrap their gifts. Peterson was so awed by what he was seeing and experiencing, that his mouth gaped open. He has never seen so many toys just appear like this! Other children, like Wislande, seemed to be more interested in the wrapping paper than the toys. There was laughter as Wislande impishly feigned alarm, threw her toys away, and erupted into a fit of giggles when the toys were fired back towards her.

Sperencia was perfectly calm when I extended my arms and asked if she wanted to come down from the sofa to join us on the tiled floor. Sperencia reached back. She was ready.

With help, she tore off the tissue paper, and underneath, she found a panda. I was unsure how she would react. We do not keep soft toys in the nursery. An unfamiliar furry bear might precipitate a melt-down from her. She looked from me to the Panda. Realising the opportunity 'oohhed' and 'aahhed'. Sperencia, taking the que, brought the bear to her chest in an embrace, and patted it. 

I was sure that the next gift she unwrapped would break the spell. It was a red-haired barbie doll. Sperencia is deathly afraid of Dixie Bickel's two year old, red-headed Grand-daughter...... To my surprise, Sperencia stroked the dolls hair, and explored it's moving limbs. Then, picking up the barbie, she broke out into a wide grin, and toddled away from me, doll in hand.
I can't know exactly what it was that soothed Sperancia's heart yesterday. I get the feeling it wasn't so much about the gifts, as it was about the mysterious, miraculous spirit of God, a heavenly Father who knows her and a saviour sent to heal all kinds of brokenness.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Best Teachers

I have some of the most wonderful and special children at the main house. Yes, I am biased, but I am also right:
Take Merudjy, for example. She is two. She has a nickname, 'Piman', which means 'pepper' in Kreyol, as in chili pepper. They say little girls are sugar and spice. Well, Piman has a bit more spice in her than most little girls!

One night, several weeks ago, we held a joint birthday party, for Merudjy and for Michno. The older babies were enjoying cake and sprite dowstairs, in the dining room. There were balloons and there was singing, and the party was flowing well, fun and festive, until, for no apparent reason, Merudgy reached over and slapped one of her little guests!

My heart sank. It was her party, but I couldn't let this go. Merudjy was removed from the table, and reprimanded. I made it brief, but I told her she had to say sorry. Back at the party table, Loveson was told that Merudjy would like to give him a hug, to make up for the slap. Merudjy drew close, raised her hand, and, smack!

Time Out!

Two minutes later, the scene was repeated. Loveson was indignant.

Time out, and take three:

Not to be twarted, I restrained Merudjy's hands this time. Seeing the opportunity, Loveson reached across, and made a grab at Merudjy's cake. Merudjy squirmed let out a hoarse cry in protest. 'No, Loveson, don't provoke her,' and there was stiffled laughter from the adult guests.

'Say sorry Merudjy.' Her eyes, though were stony, her lips were tight.

'You are a nice girl. You need to be nice.' Merudjy barely shook her head. Her eyes were piercing. She was not sorry.

Honestly, I wasn't quite sure what to do next. As I considered my next move, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Loveson take a spoonful of cake, and extend it towards Merudjy. A reward for bad behaviour? I am a principled person, yet something told me not to interfere this time. I closed my mouth, and watched the scene unfold. There was absolute silence around the table, as all of the guests watched expectantly.
Merudjy's expression softened. She looked at Loveson, whose eyes were smiling across at her. Merudjy opened her mouth, and allowed her friend to spoon feed her the cake: forgiven without apology.

'Merudjy,' I whispered, 'give him a hug now, darling.' And she did. Grace had broken through her obstinacy, in a way that reprimand, reason and time out had not. Loveson had extended grace, Merudjy, for her part, had accepted it. I had intended to teach these little ones about repentance and reconciliation. Instead, I was the one who had learned the lesson.

Loveson went home to France in October, and later this week, Merudjy and 5 other little ones from the main house, will also leave, in time to spend Christmas with their adoptive families in France.

I will miss them so much. Each and every one, leaves an impression on me, as real as a thumb-print and as utterly unique.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Shot In The Darkness

"In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, ‘flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart." (Psalm 11: 1-2)

In the midst of the political unrest that plagued Haiti this week, we were visited by two tiny sojourners. Jacob was the first to arrive on Monday, born three months prematurely and weighing 1lb 9oz. He had several birth defects, including a severe cleft lip, and deformations affecting his nose, eyes, ears and hands. I was touched by the love of his family, who, travelled from Petionville to Port-au-Prince, before doubling back and making their way up the mountain, to us, after being turned away by hospitals in both cities. How could we give Jacob anything but the best care we could offer?

Jacob was not breathing when he arrived, and his heart was barely beating. After a successful resuscitation, Dixie and I made several adaptions, that made it possible to run our nasal CPAP equipment with a facial mask. Little Jacob had no nasal passages, so nasal CPAP was not an option for him. He passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Stephie arrived late on Friday afternoon. She had been born six days earlier, around 4 weeks before her due date. Her twin brother died in-utero. Stephie's s family are heart-deep in voodoo, so instead of taking her to a hospital, they took her to a voodoo priest. The priest tied a fetish around the baby's arm, and sent her home. By the time Stephie made it down the mountain to GLA, she was only just clinging on to life. Her Aunt explained that they had given her only
water to drink.

This 2lb 13 oz infant was dying from malnutrition: so cold that we could not get a core temperature to register, she was swollen from electrolyte imbalances and a protein deficiency. Stephie had a metabolic acidosis from burning fat for energy. Being so tiny, she had used up her sparse reserves, and her blood sugar was dangerously low.

Stephie was warmed and given a bolus of dextrose. She deteriorated to the point that she needed compressed air to prevent apnoeas, then oxygen, and finally CPAP. We knew from the outset that Stephie was fragile. We gave her small volumes of milk and IV fluids, as part of a plan to slowly correct her electrolyte imbalances - rapid correction would have caused brain swelling.

Sophie's protein deficiency caused her blood clotting mechanisms to break down. She developed what we think was a stress ulcer - probably the result of cold stress - and although Dixie and I tried everything we could think of to stop the bleeding, and although we pleaded with God for her life, Stephie bled out, and died at mid-night.

I am tired of burying babies. I have buried five in the past month. Discouraging thoughts are the arrows shot in the dark. Today, they miss their target.

I am mindful that each tiny fragile infant, however short their time with us, teaches us something - a novel or unconventional way of treating problems with the medicines and equipment that we have. A reason to reflect....... What did we do well? What could we do differently next time? Is there anything we don't have, that we could get, that might help a baby in a similar situation?

As of the early hours of this morning, we are now on a mission to research the options and obtain a plasma volume expander, that we could use as a blood substitute in future emergencies. We are too remote for blood transfusion to be feasible in these situations but there are life-saving alternatives that we could store here at GLA.

So I persevere in the work that God has called me to, with a new hope in the battle against discouragement. We are fighting a good fight. I desperately want the next Stephie to live.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Prayer On My Lips

This week, with relief and joy, we witnessed Sonia, Maudlin and Bobo make full recoveries.

Geraldine gained 3 lb in 10 days. We had hoped that the staff at her orphanage would allow us to keep her until January, so that we could ensure that she made a complete recovery from her malnutrition. It was humbling to hear their decission: they preferred to take her home. Geraldine has returned to an instituation that doen't even have the basics. Their water supply is comtaminated and they lack sufficient supplies of food and baby formula. They have no medecines and there is 1 staff member for every 14 children.

At GLA, we have no right or authority under Haitian law to challenge the decision to discharge Geraldine against our advice. We taught Geraldine's care-giver how to make a high calorie milk formula for her, and we provided some vitamins to keep her healthy. We urged the orphanage to bring her back if she becomes sick again, or loses weight. We offered to provide emergency medical care to their other children. We hope that they will come to us for assistance in the future. I also spoke with a US-based missionary organisation about the possibility of installing a water filtration system at Geraldine's orphanage - this would cut their mortality rate significantly.

I know that that we are incredibly fortunate at GLA. I think back to the care that Geraldine received in her time with us. I can honestly say that it parallelled the care she would have received in a hospital in Europe or North America. Never before have I sent a child out of our gates to such a bleak future; the reality for most Haitian orphans is miserable poverty, hunger, malnutrition, sickness and abuse. I know that in all likelihood, this reality has and will be Geraldine's.

Knowing this, I waved Geraldine off with a smile on my face, pain in my heart, doubt in my mind, a prayer on my lips.