Friday, February 17, 2017


Sunday worship. A padded pew.  A tidy sermon wrapped up in an acceptable time frame so we can make sure to get home for kickoff. The band, the songs I know by heart, and the coffee and cookies while the kids run through the fellowship hall.

Last Sunday, worship was closer to God than I know I’ve ever been. While I prepared his body for burial I played the same songs I had listened to just 48 hours before while I sat next to him and held his hand. I had spent that afternoon praying silent, wordless prayers. I didn’t know what to beg for. Healing? Release? I could only trust that the cries and the groans of my heart were deciphered because even though I speak several languages, none of them could express the things I didn’t know how to say.

Emano came to me in the late afternoon, the setting sun reflecting off the deep shadows of protruding bones. I gathered his 20lbs in my arms and something inside of me cracked.

I hold a lot of malnourished babies. Most of them live but many do not. I hold them and I meet their needs and I disassociate when I have to because if I didn’t I couldn’t do this. This “job” that doesn’t end at 5pm, this job that both fills and destroys my heart. Emano broke me wide open. I couldn’t stop the wave of love I had for him with all the strength of my flesh. Disassociation wasn’t an option. I knew that this was going to hurt like hell. I knew the pain that was likely, but I was powerless to hold it at bay.

I heard the news as I was sitting down to breakfast early on Sunday morning. The food we had prepared turned to sawdust in my mouth and it was all I could do to choke down the bite I had taken. I wanted to scream, to take out all my anger at the injustice of this world on a plate of eggs. I wanted to hate food. I wanted to throw it against the wall and curse it and blame it for the death of every baby I have held and loved and watched slip away.

Instead, I got up from the table where my own children filled their bellies and I collapsed into the corner of their tiny playroom off the kitchen, trying to stifle my sobs.

Emano was dead.

Not a malnourished foreign child. Emano.

Once you have seen the shuddering and groaning and pain of starvation you will never forget it. Once you’ve watched it tear through the frail body of 5-year-old child the image will be burned in your mind forever. Once you realize that thing you do every day without even thinking about is the thing that would have saved his life, you will never, ever be able to erase that from your mind and you will never, ever be the same.

You will never be able to turn off that burning desire to kill what killed him.

Sunday worship. A cement, windowless room behind my house. A room that is only entered in reverence and shrouded in the deep pain of a life gone too soon. Soft music, tears and sweat mingling together while I dress the body of a 5 year old boy in a hand-me-down suit from my own son’s closet.

Emano, I wish we had seen you sooner and fought for you harder. I wish the fighting wasn’t necessary at all. I wish that your birthplace wasn’t your death sentence. I wish that this world had been fair to you. I wish things were different. I wish you hadn’t hurt. I wish you could have stayed.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Fight Must Go On

A guest post from Keely Brookes, Director of Administration and Sustainability for Espwa Berlancia

Last year I took a job as a psychology support and teacher in an orphanage based school. The children were wonderful, and the school system was a mix of European and American influences, resulting in a well rounded education that was based on interactive learning (unlike many of the schools here which are simply copy and learn). It was a unique experience which I loved. I’m blessed, even for a year to have been a part of these children’s lives. Sadly, due to location I couldn’t continue my work there. With the Haitian elections, protests between parties is rife, and traveling long distance on the back of a motocycle isn’t wise…with a heavy heart I left my role there.

But it was during this time that I met Rhyan and began seeing the work of Espwa Berlancia. Rhyan has a son, Henry, a little older than Sofia, as we met on playdates and became friends I saw more of the work she was doing. It started with Jacky, a fighting little boy who came to her home to get well. He was malnourished. He had a young Mom who came from a remote village where they had little money or access to food. He stopped growing and developing. But after a few weeks in Rhyan’s home, with nutritious food and a peanut butter based medicine called Medika Mamba, the difference in Jacky was unbelievable. 
Shortly after that Rhyan had a phone call about a little girl who was in a hospital out of the city. She was dying. They managed to arrange a helicopter to bring her to Port-au-Prince where Rhyan facilitated her care. She was admitted to one of the best hospitals in the city. 
Her birthday was May 13th. She was exactly 10 days younger than Sofia. She was small, delicate and so beautiful. Her name was Ketia. And she was severely malnourished. It was meeting Ketia and watching her fight iso hard that made me motivated to learn more about malnutrition in Haiti - not only medically but also the psychological affect and longing impact on the children and their families. 
After a fight, Ketia passed away. In 2016, a baby, the same age as my daughter, died of malnutrition. 
It’s because of this little girl that the Espwa Berlanica Inpatient Malnutrition Center was born. She was the last bit of fight we needed to put much talked about plans into action. After looking into her eyes, broken and lifeless, and then going home to my happy healthy daughter, who is the same age, I saw clearer than ever that I needed to see change. That we, no matter how small, could make a difference if we supporting those fighting against malnutrition. 
I am so lucky to be a part of Espwa Berlancia. I am here with the organization full time now. I am responsible for the programs administration and the family sustainability program. When children come to us they receive health care - all of there medical needs are met, infections are treated and they are given a peanut butter based medicine to help them gain healthy weight. But we also take care of the parents. I (with Espwa Berlanica) am working with Blessing House Ministries to start a house specially for parents to stay while their child gets medical care. At Our Blessing House parents will undertake health education classes, literacy classes, small business training and agriculture training, as well as participating in support groups and individual counseling (with Espere Counseling Center). Working with other organizations we then help them to ether start a small business or to grow and sell crops. The idea is that using a holistic approach we support family preservation. We believe families have the right to stay together. These classes and programs give parents the education and skills to be able to provide for their children without becoming dependent.

Many people ask what its like here on a day to day basis. Truthfully, Its hard to put into words an “average” day here. I don’t really think there is an average day. Several times a week we have new children admitted into the center. This means there are very sick children who are either swollen or wasted away as a result of malnutrition, most of whom need an IV or feeding tube and are in critical care. There is always noise. As the children are being admitted by the nurse, they always scream in the arms of strangers. But strangely, its the ones who don’t scream that make my heart broken - often those are the children who are almost ready to give up fighting, they are too weak to even notice its not Mama or Papa holding them. Hearing the parents story is probably the hardest part of the intake for me - most that come to us haven’t eaten for days and most have had children pass away as a result of malnutrition. The effect of severe poverty is evident in their childs tiny body and red brittle hair. Often I want to cry for the children and their families but looking into their eyes and seeing hope as they have brought their child to a place where they will get well makes me realize that I shouldn’t be crying for them, My energy should be on fighting with them for their child. I should be hopeful with them. So while admissions are heartbreaking, they are full of promise.
Other days we do discharges. When a child is well and graduates the program they go home to their family. All the nannies and staff gather around the child and their family to sing and pray before they leave. Watching the smiling faces leave through the gate makes all the long days and nights filled with worry worth every second. 
And then some days are filled with sadness and grief - holding a baby as you think this is there last few hours on earth, watching as a baby is declared dead because in 2016 they starved to death, hearing the cries of a now child-less mother, arranging caskets and burial clothes. These days are the hardest and I’m not sure its something I will ever become used to. But its these days that makes me more determined to fight for children and their families who are suffering from malnutrition. 
So an average day…it can be a day in the office updating patient databases and writing parents curriculum, it can be a day playing outside and watching the little ones learn new skills, it can be a day singing and praying over a child who is returning to their family happy and healthy, it can be a day holding and rocking our newest admissions as they fight with their tiny bodies to live another day, or it can be a day arranging the funeral of a baby. 

When we wake up and Sofia and I walk to the center each morning, I never really know which kind of day it will be. All I know for sure is that the fight must continue. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Welcoming Abby - Our new sponsorship coordinator!

Meet Abby, our new sponsorship coordinator! 

Abi will be joining us on the ground in Haiti as soon as her support is committed. Abby has shared a little bit of her heart here...

"On April 8th, 2014, I stepped foot in Haiti for the first time with no idea what to expect. I didn't know my whole world was about to change; it was about to get a little bigger. All I knew is God had called me to serve in this beautiful country. I had signed up to serve in an orphanage for a month, and was so excited. On our way to the orphanage, I remember looking around and feeling complete peace. Something in me knew this was supposed to be my home. 

I spent that month holding babies, loving on them, and helping them reach milestones. After that I was hooked. I knew I would be back as soon as possible. 

I spent the next year working at the orphanage, coordinating their sponsorship programs. In March of 2016, I felt the Lord was telling me it was time to move on to something new. After much praying and seeking, I am so excited to join the Espwa Berlancia team, and use the gifts and talents that God has blessed me with. 

 In order for me to be able to do the work I feel Lord has called me to, I need your help. I am looking for individuals who are willing to partner with me on a monthly basis, both financially, and in prayer. I will need to raise between $1,500 and $2,000 a month. Would you be willing to partner with me at $20, or $30, a month? Any support you can offer me on this journey is such a blessing and greatly appreciated!"

If you would like to join Abby's support team you can write to her at You can also make a tax deductible donation towards Abby's support using the paypal button on the right side of the blog, just make sure you put "Support for Abby" in the notes. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guest Post

A guest post from Espwa Berlancia volunteer, Nikita Griffioen...

I decided to go to Haiti because recently I'd made a really hard decision in another area of my life, and I suddenly had three weeks to myself. No work. No school.
And, to be honest.. No way I wanted to be home in Canada during that time.

I had asked God to open up doors where He wanted me to serve; this time off was something I wanted to give to Him. God is always good. Before I knew it, connections were made and opportunities had arisen for me to volunteer at Espwa Berlancia.

I had no idea what Haiti had in store for me. The friends I have who had gone worked at comfy orphanages, their North American reality carefully guarded and kept intact for the duration of their stay. Little did I know volunteering for Rhyan would be very different than that. Little did I know that that fact would end up being a huge blessing.

Rhyan didn't cater to me as a volunteer; I was there to do life alongside her and fight what she was fighting-- and I did. We took crazy moto rides almost daily, to both do errands and experience the beauty of Haiti; I dealt with diaper explosions; there were ups and downs. I could tell stories upon stories of the love that her house and clinic is filled with; of happy afternoons spent with Keshme, playing with water on the deck; of strapping babies to my body and walking through her peaceful Thomassin neighbourhood. Those stories will be for another time; however, right now there is one part of the trip that I'll focus on: visiting Cite Soleil.

Rhyan had got a call that there were 14 malnourished children in the slum, so on our motos we went.
Words cannot really aptly describe the slum. The poorly paved streets were lined with sparse trees devoid of leaves, electricity wires hanging at odd angles and broken, people half dressed, and house after house after house. The slum is comprised completely of houses -- there is nothing but small boxes lined up where people live.

The heat there was nearly unbearable -- the sun was beating down and there were still no clouds.
We got to the house where we were meeting the babies who needed help. We were ushered inside by a mom, and there we sat in the "front room" of the house -- basically a cement block with no windows, just a door leading out, and a door leading to the rest of the house which was covered by old rags sewn together.

It didn't take long for people to start coming. Rhyan's contact had told her that he had located 14 malnourished babies; over 22 ended up coming.

In that small room -- probably no more than 20x 20 or so -- Rhyan and I sat on chairs supplied by the mother who lived there. We sweated, and sweated. Mamas poured in with their babies, and we held little ones on our laps, watched them crawl around, asked them if they ate; asked them if they could walk, etc. Children and babies in all states of malnourishment came in, and we met them, and held them, and loved on them for at least those few moments. 

The babies ranged from newborns to older, and were in tattered clothes. Some didn't have pants on at all. Their mothers were attempting to breastfeed them right there; there were special needs ones, and people lined up at the door. Once we had checked out the kid and determined if they needed inpatient care or not, they were sent out, only to have more crammed in. That small room stank in a rank way and not a single person wasn't drenched in sweat, babies included. 

Nearly half were admitted to the center.

Rhyan's work holds humble glory in that it is dirty, sweaty, real. Rhyan's work holds humble glory in her attitude of humility: she expressed, numerous times, her desire to hire Haitian people to do this sort of work, so that the face of Haiti is seen amongst the needs of Haiti. She isn't the White Woman in the foreground, fighting for rights; she is the white-yet-Haitian-woman in the background, desperately and passionately fighting for the basic needs of the people-- her people-- that she loves.

I decided to go to Haiti because I had needed to leave and God opened up incredible doors to serve and love on His precious babies. I fell in love with Haiti, however, fighting alongside Rhyan and seeing the passion that she exudes every single day. I fell in love with the babies, with the slums, with the motos; I fell in love with the kind hearts of the Haitian people.

Rhyan's clinic-- though at the moment small-- is so, so full of life. There is life being breathed into starving children via mamba, life in the nannies as they sing and pray over the babies each night. This vibrant, messy, ever-changing, ever-growing love is a love that fills. I went to Haiti empty and unassuming; I left Haiti with a dose of this love and a thankfulness to a God who knew exactly where I needed to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


It’s dark and cold, the light from the oil lamp on the table in the middle of the room does little to illuminate the corners of the dirt packed floor. The family of 7 huddles of on their single mattress, under the few blankets they own, their empty stomachs yell out in protest and their emaciated bodies shake and shudder, begging for the morning sun to warm them. Finally it comes, and the new day shines, but one does not stir. Hunger has claimed another little victim.

A small hole in the ground, next to their thatched hut and empty corn fields. A tiny corner of the world, a tiny group of mourners for a tiny body who’s name we will never know.

And the scene plays again, and again, while little hollow eyes watch from the sidelines, no understanding of the trauma that that is overtaking a small fragile heart.

When it feels like nothing will ever be good again, Our Good Father is there, ready to redeem.

When it feels like there is no reason to smile, the giver of joy is right there, ready to defeat sorrow and turn mourning into dancing.

When the tears are drowning and we are dry to the bone, the River is there, waiting to be taken in, in long deep, gasping gulps.

And so we keep going. We keep fighting, we keep falling on our knees and begging for strength, for a smile, for a laugh and for a bit of childhood to make it’s way back into a tiny broken heart.

We believe. And we wait, for the morning that He promised is coming. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Remember

April 2nd 2008 - It was 8 years ago today. I remember the very second I stepped off of the airplane into the heavy heat of Port Au Prince, Haiti. I don’t remember feeling instantly at home, quite the opposite. I felt overwhelmed and scared. I remember wondering what in the hell I had gotten myself into. I thought that month would be the longest of my life.

In reality that month flew and when the day came for me to travel back to the airport I was relived to be going home but I was scared and overwhelmed in different way because I knew, my heart was forever captured to this place and my journey was far from over.

April 2nd 2008 was my first day in Haiti, but it was so much more...

September 28th 2010 - I met a 12.6 pound, 18 month old little boy named LynsMy Laurant in an orphanage who stirred my heart in a way that was different than I had ever known before. I had no idea that in that split second that I became a mother.  LynsMy gained weight in my care and I found myself thinking about things in a totally new light. As the days progressed and he started to call me mama the world took on a new meaning. Everything changed. He became my son. I held his hand as he transitioned from a scared, broken little baby to a strong, loving little boy. He was everything I had dreamed of, until those dreams came crashing down. The truth was, he wasn’t mine. He was theirs. And when the time came to give him back I thought I would never breathe again. But I did, and I am. LynsMy was malnourished in Haiti, but he was so much more…

October 30th 2011 - On a small side street in Leognae, Haiti I came across a tiny little bundle of a baby called Migureline. At 12 months old she weighed just 9.75lbs. She was the sickest baby I had ever known. I spent hours with Migureline on a moto taxi and on foot, searching for help that was refused at every turn. Finally, I returned home, to love and hold her while we waited for Heaven. 2 days later, at 10:18pm Migureline finished her fight and went to Jesus. Migureline was the very first baby I ever lost. Migureline was malnourished in Haiti, but she was so much more…

March 3rd 2012 - A 9.8 pound 16 month old little girl named Wilna came bounding into my life. She was fragile and precious and she craved love, which she found in the arms of my dear friend. Daily I watched the sacrifice of servanthood that Lauren willfully gave as she cared for Wilna and loved her in full abandon. April 15th 2012, I stood next to my friend at the fresh grave of her daughter and tired to explain something I didn't understand. Wilna was malnourished in Haiti, but she was so much more...
October 17th 2012 - 12.2 pounds and 20 months old. "I" came through the gates of an orphanage where I was serving. He was frail but feisty and his story broke my heart. I loved him from the second I laid eyes on him. I was in awe over his strength and his fight. I was in awe over his first smile. I was in awe over his recovery. "I" was malnourished in Haiti, but he was so much more...

November 30th 2013 - It was her first birthday when I met 10lb Christella. I encountered her outside of an orphanage that had just turned her mother away, refusing to admit her sick baby girl. I was busy, I almost didn't stop. But something caught my attention and I turned around. Christella became the first baby that I sucessfully treated for malnutrition in my home and she was the sister of the son I had no idea would become mine. Christella was malnourished in Haiti, but she was so much more...

October 25th 2015 - I met 11 year old Sandra. Sandra weighed 31lbs and was barely able to walk or speak. She had lost all of her hair and had a terrible parasitic infestation. Sandra had been malnourished for almost all of her life and her body had reached a breaking point. Sandra was days away from death but with the miracle of medika mamba she was able to recover and is now home and thriving. Sandra was malnourished in Haiti but she was so much more...

January 29th 2016 - 23 month old Youvika was 9.02lbs. She had not had anything to eat or drink for 3 days. 6 hours after arriving at my gate she died, 26 days before her second birthday. Youvika was malnourished in Haiti, but she was so much more...

March 3rd 2016 - 12.76 pound, 17 month old Jacky was the happiest baby I had ever seen. I don't know why. His life was filled with pain and hunger but still he smiled. Jacky got well. He grew big and strong. Soon he will go home to his family, but not before leaving a massive impact on ours. Jacky was the first child in our home after I came out of the hardest season of my life to date.  Jacky was malnourished in Haiti, but he was so much more...

March 20th 2016 - On a tiny airstrip in the remote village of Jeremie I met a baby girl named Ketia. She was perfection. 10 months old, just over 6 pounds. A warrior. There isn't much that I can say except that I loved her, with all of my heart. I got to hold her for 5 glorious days before she flew to heaven. Ketia was malnourished in Haiti but she was so, so much more...

April 2nd 2016 - I have been waiting for weeks for exactly the right time. The perfect day to share my dream and my heart. Today it’s here. Today every one of these stories is weaved together into a program that is my heart and soul. The Espwa Berlancia Malnutrition and Family Preservation Program! You can read all the details here.

In order to see this dream become a reality it is time to open an inpatient center with enough room to house all of these babies and their parents. My goal is to see this center open and ready to start serving the community by July of this year. It's a big dream but I believe it is possible, but not without help!  We have found the perfect property with all the space we need just blocks from my current home. This new space will allow us to house our entire program in one compound, including our ongoing prenatal program!

I have set up a gofundme account that explains all our our fundraising needs, broken down in to the steps that will allow this to happen during the timeline I hope to stick within. Please, take a moment to go check it out HERE, donate and share. Together we will see this dream become a reality and we will see babies live and families protected. 

I know there will be so many more of these precious ones who come into my life. More faces of babies that I will joyfully send home with their families and more faces of babies that I will tearfully lay to rest until I am finally able to join them in eternal paradise. This journey is 8 years old but it is far from over. In fact, in a way it feels like it is just beginning. I pray that the things I have learned over the past 8 years will lend me wisdom and that I will daily find the strength to keep fighting, in joy, alongside these families.

Today is my 2,922nd day in Haiti but it is so much more...

You can join us in this fight by becoming a monthly supporter of the Malnutrition and Family Preservation Center

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

What If...

I share a lot of my heart. I share as much as I can because writing is how I “get it all out” but, believe it or not, there is much, much more that I don’t offer up on social media. There are a lot of reasons but probably the biggest is that even though I have many loving, open minded friends, judgment comes easy to those in the developed world. The questions I get in private messages are numerous… Why do the mothers wait so long to seek help? Why do they keep having babies they can’t afford? Why are people always asking for a handout. If I’m being honest, they are questions I have asked myself a million times over. I get the why’s because I have them too.

8 years here, and having grace drilled into me from an early age has given me the mindset that seeks real answers to these questions. Why DID she wait so long to seek help for her baby? Perhaps because “she” has never been valued enough to be taught to read or write, let alone given education on basic health and hygiene. Maybe “she” did everything she thought was best for her daughter, maybe “she” brought her to a clinic for a vaccine, the most loving thing a mother can do, only to be told that her daughter was very sick, and to find herself burying that baby girl just 24 hours later. Unless I am going to send the teacher into the depths, I have no room to judge. I have only room to love in the precious, raw open moments that I am given. And really, why does “she” keep having babies?? Maybe it’s because the choice of sexual contact is everything but. Maybe “she” has no say in when, where or how. Maybe “she” is just doing what she has to do. Maybe self control has nothing to do with it. 

 Last week I loved a baby girl with my entire heart but she was someone else’s entire world. Ketia was loved and treasured by her mom and dad and by her 3 older siblings. She was their joy, their everything. Her mom told me about her favorite songs. Her dad talked about the moments every morning when he got up with the baby before leaving for work, spooning food into her mouth and changing her diaper to give her mama a few more moments of sleep. They were normal! This was their every day life. Their life before they had to learn how to live broken.

Last Thursday Ketia was dying. I knew it when I held her in my arms. I begged and pleaded with God that He would change His mind but I knew that she was dying. That morning I had told her mom that it was ok to go home and that I would stay with her but within hours it was obvious to me that she was slowly leaving this earth. I put on a worship radio station, climbed into her bed and rocked and prayed with all of my might that she would hold on and wait for her mama to say goodbye. For hours I held her and sang and begged and fought with God. Most of all I desperately wanted her to wait for her mom to get back so that she could be the one to hold her in those final moments.

Finally, at about 6pm her mom and dad walked into the room. At this point Ketia had been unconscious for almost 3 hours, she had been “death gasping” for the past 90 minutes. I knew she didn’t have much longer and when they walked in they knew it too. We spent a few minutes all just gathered around this baby that we all loved and I finally told them about the reality of the situation. I explained to them the doctors prognosis, my own understanding of the situation and the options that were available to them. Her mama and daddy were so brave. They listened intently and they asked questions about everything. They asked what a tube for breathing would mean, what it would do for her, what it would do to her. They asked, with all sincerity, what her life from now on would look like. They asked if it would hurt her, they asked if she would cry. The doctor explained everything in the a way that I will always love him for. He was kind and honest and he told them simply the truth and in the end they decided that sweet Ketia had cried enough, that she had had enough hurt. Her parents decided that they did not want her to be intubated or resuscitated when the time came for her to go. They decided what what best for her, even though it was what hurt them the most. They loved their baby one last time.

After the decision was made I invited her mom and dad to come to the bed to hold and be with her and that was the exact second that Ketia decided to open her eyes, one last time. She looked up into the faces of the 2 people that she knew by heart and as soon as she saw her daddy, she smiled a great big smile. I had never seen her smile before. In that second, that wasn’t for me, she stole yet another pice of my heart. Ketia’s mom and dad spent time praying over her and I stood in the back of the room and I felt like an imposition. I was reminded, one more time that this wasn’t my pain, wasn’t my story. I have their permission to share it and I do, but not for me. Not so that people will tell me how sorry they are for me. I tell it because Ketia died, and that is a tragedy and the only thing more tragic would be if she died and it didn’t matter. I will fight, as long as I have breath, to make sure that Ketia matters, that she isn’t forgotten. That one more child lives, because she did not. I will fight for Ketia and I will fight for a mother who lost her baby and a father who’s light was stolen away.

They are why I will fight.

What if the mama who waited too long was just doing the best she knew? What if the one who kept having babies didn’t have a choice, but loved her children fiercely despite their circumstances? What if the only hand out they really wanted was a hand up, and the only thing they needed was a willing heart to embrace the ugly and hard in anticipation of the beauty that is lying, just beyond our sight?