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, 3 June 2012

Far From Eden

I believe that their Father God intended them for Eden. A place where the soil was rich and the earth produced bountifully. A place in which they would be safe and nurtured into adulthood and all the days of their lives. Docillia, Shamira and Dabbens though, were born far from Eden.

Last Thursday, at the end of a long day, Haitian social services closed an orphanage in Kenscoff on the grounds that the children there were severely neglected. GLA was asked to provide emergency care for 15 sick babies. At 5pm, I watched from the NICU balcony, as social workers and GLA staff lead 23 children to the common room. The nannies and I counted 1 baby and 2 toddlers. The other children in the group appeared to range from 3-8 years old. Where would we put all of these children, with both houses so crowded?

Downstairs, I assessed the children medically, while others confirmed the identity of each child, photographed them and attached name bands to their wrists. Having received three critically ill, children from this orphanage in 2010, I was aware of the conditions the children would be coming from and I was fully prepared to set up a make-shift hospital ward. I had been praying for these children ever since my precious Geraldine had returned to that house of horrors. I scanned the room looking for her. To my dismay, she was not there.

Most of the children were malnourished, with red hair, spindly arms and bloated bellies.  Two were suffering from protein-energy malnutrition. Several had coughs and fevers. One little boy had healing wounds on his toes that he told me were from rat bites. A few had minor skin infections.  The youngest child, an 8lb baby who we were told was 4 months old was emaciated, severely dehydrated and suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. He was the only child that needed urgent medical care.

Three of the 23 children have been admitted to the nurseries at the main house.  They are the smallest and frailest children. All three have infections, all are malnourished and all are responding well to special formula milk, plumpy nut and antibiotics. The wounds on the inside though, will be more difficult to heal.

Dabbens has only just began to trust that  there is no need to feed until he is overly full. The day after his admission. he was a fractious baby, with a hungry, desperate cry, who, pulled at his hair and chewed his fist. We would stop feeding him after a few ounces of formula so that we could burp him and he would kick and thrash and arch his back and look at us with pained confusion. The orphanage closure occurred just in time to save his life, but it came a month too late for his dead twin.

Docillia (shown on the left) is three years old and has only just learnt to walk. She is full of smiles and she chatters away with the nurses and nannies. Foreigners who used to visit her orphanage were amazed to see the transformation in her after 24 hours at GLA. We are told that they didn't know she could talk, and that they have never seen her smile before. They have known her for 18 months.

Shamira - We were told that she was 8 months old, but I counted 18 teeth in her mouth, and I suspect that she is at least two years old. Shamira is shy and a little bit withdrawn. she is willing, with trepidation dancing behind  veiled eyes, to accept our care and our tenderness. She can't place her confidence in us yet. Her urgent wails last Friday as she watched me give parasite medication, mixed with yogurt to Dicillia, convinced me that at her last orphanage, some children got food when it was served, not all.

On Friday morning, as I spooned medical peanut butter, specially formulated for malnourished children into a bowl, and began spoon-feeding it to each girl, they exchanged impish, slightly bemused looks. Peanut butter from a spoon - has this lady lost her senses? Shamira seemed to inquire. Raising her eyebrows, Docillia responded with an expression that said, probably, but lets just go with it! In their minds, they had hit the jackpot.

Make no mistake, these are wounded children. Their early life-experiences have taught them that adults are inconsistent and untrustworthy. That they themselves are not deserving of basic care and protection. Not special. Not noticed. Not seen.

Part of the treatment here will be warmth, cuddle-time and lots of positive interaction with adults. You see, we can give these hurting babies all the food they want, and the best medicines,  but without gentle loving care, without touch and physical contact from their caregivers, there will not grow, they will not heal, and they will not thrive developmentally. Apparently, on some primal level, a life without love is a life not worth living.

The nannies and I believe without reservation that each of these little ones are precious to God. Knowing this, we feel privileged to tend to them. To comfort them. To relieve their suffering. To salvage their lives. We have no idea how long Dabbens, Shamira and Docillia will be with us. Will Social Services track down their parents in a weeks time or in a months time? Will the children be declared abandoned in 6 months time and eventually be adopted?

I don't know, and so I feel the same urgent need I felt with Geraldine, to strengthen and heal their bodies and sooth their hurting hearts as fast and as well as we possibly. Meanwhile, I pray for the solution that long-term, will be most conducive to their well-being.

God knows better than I do, what that solution is, in this place, so far east of Eden.


Lois said...

God has placed this orphanage on my heart, and I long to be there to love those little ones new to GLA. But He has given me a little one of my own to care for right now. Someday I want to come and help and be His hands to those hurting children.
Thank-you for sharing their stories

Colleen and Jussi said...

He is our shelter and our refuge and our harbour of thankful for you and for all the crew at GLA to be the safe harbour these children are moored at , even if just for a short while...your love for these babes of His, is there saving grace...keep on lovin them

John Carroll said...

Dear Susan,

You are doing great work at GLA.

It is very hard work and never ending but it has to be done.

You have chosen the right path.

Kembe fem.