Thursday, April 19, 2018

19 April 2018

 95 days ago a man walked through our yard with a tiny bundle in his hands. He was weary from the 5 hour journey that brought him to our emergency room, and the several days leading up to his arrival. Two days before setting out on his way to us he buried his young wife, In his arms he carried his 4 day old, 3lb son.

Upon their arrival I quickly unwrapped the bunches of towels to reveal a small, pale baby who was cold to the touch. He was floppy and unresponsive but he was breathing and his heart was strong. Our medical staff worked quickly to start an iv into his tiny veins and get him on warming pads and under heat lamps.

As the baby began to warm up his father sat next to his bed and whispered his story. A mother, a complicated delivery in a simple thatched roof home, a tiny body crashed onto this side of earth at the same time that another slipped silently away. There was no formally trained midwife to help, a local birth attendant was present but when the blood started flowing too fast there was no medicine to stop it, and no bags of blood to transfuse. In a mater of moments she was gone.

Dorlegeune became a widow that day, the sole provider for a tiny premature boy. As a first time father, with no idea how to care for a baby and no milk to feed him, Dorlegeune turned to the women in his neighborhood for help. One of those women told him of a place that she had found when her son was on the brink of death 6 months before. She urged him to bring his baby to us, and she accompanied him on the journey from their home, far in the rural mountains, to the recovery center.

When he finished telling his tale he was tired. He sat back in his chair and sipped the hot cup of coffee that had been pressed into his hands. Next to him on the warming bed his little boy finally let out a squawking cry. We all stood silent for a few moments, soaking in the sacredness of his story and the moment that we had all been invited to witness.

Our nurses asked the baby’s name and weary, Dorlegeune responded that he had not been given one yet. He turned to me and asked me if I would choose a name for his son. This is something I have been asked to do on several occasions and it is a request I do not take lightly. I knew that he was giving me a great honor and in respect of that I thought carefully. After a few moments I asked him what he thought of the name Beni. In Creole Beni means blessing, our entire staff gathered around and spoke life and hope over this little boy and his father, we all knew that though his beginning was hard, his life was a beautiful blessing. His father agreed and that day Beni was admitted into our NICU.

Over the next several weeks baby Beni began to grow. His little personality started to take over our tiny NICU, everyone who came in the room was enthralled by him. He was gorgeous with clear bright eyes and an easy smile. He was rarely in his bed, preferring to be snuggled in the arms of his daddy, or his favorite nanny, Alexandra. Under their care Beni blossomed and before long that tiny little baby passed 5lbs, and then 7 until finally he weighed in at 9lbs 8oz. We knew that Dorlegeune was ready to take Beni home. He was bathed and dressed in a new outfit, passed around to everyone for one last kiss and sent home with an appointment for a follow up visit 10 days later. We were all thrilled as we watched them walk away.

Another success story for the books, another family leaving with hope in their steps.

2 weeks passed and Beni missed his formula appointment. We were concerned and tried calling Dorlegeune but his phone was off. We worried, and waited to hear from them. A few days later the woman who had brought Beni and Dorlegeune to our center came with heartbreaking news... Beni had become suddenly sick this past Sunday. His daddy quickly set out with him to find help but before they could make it from their rural area little Beni passed away.

Most of the time when children leave the center we get to see them come back for follow up appointments month after month, and we get to watch them thrive in the care of their families. Most of the time we get to see them blossom. Most of the time we get to watch them grow. For little Beni we had no idea that the last time we saw him would be the very last time.

I can’t wrap this story up in a pretty package.

I can’t spin it to find beauty.

While I get to see a lot of happy endings the reality is that a lot of times babies that I love dearly die, and a lot of times there seems to be no reason for the suffering that they experience.

I like to think that Dorlegeune found some peace during the time he spent with us. His story took a turn that no one expected and we are all devastated with him, but I hope that in the fog of devastation he remembers the words of Truth that he heard spoken inside of our walls. I hope that while he grieves his son he finds some comfort in knowing that other people thought that they were worth fighting for, and believed that his little baby was a precious blessing.

 Beni Pierre January 7th 2018 - April 8th 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

10 April 2018

Yesterday I was contacted by a good friend of mine who was working at a mobile clinic in a rural area of the mountains about 5 hours from us. During the clinic they had been brought a mother who had recently given birth, and her tiny newborn twins. Emily is a nurse and immediately knew that all 3 of the patients were critically sick and needed to get to help as soon as possible. Unfortunately, being in such a rural area, options for transportation were slim.

Once again we were able to turn to Hero for help, and they sent an ambulance several hours outside of the city to pick up and transport the three. Mama was accepted by a hospital on the other side of Port Au Prince while the twins, weighing about 4lbs each were brought up the mountain to our NICU. 

The babies arrived just before 10pm last night and our wonderful medical staff got right to work stabilizing them and getting them warmed up. It was very clear that if they had not made it to us when they did they probably would not have survived. Instead, they were tucked into a warm bed and watched over by our dedicated staff members. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

This morning as the sun rose over our tiny caribbean island home the light through the window of our NICU shined on the toes of 2 tiny new orphans. They made it to the help they needed but their mama did not. By the time she got from her home deep in the mountains to the care of a doctor they were unable to save her life.

She died late last night. 

Today I am heavy for these 2 babies and what that means for them. Statistically, when a newborn in the developing world loses their mother, their chances of survival is immediately and drastically reduced. Add in their very low birth weights and the fact that they live so far away from sufficient health care facilities and you have a recipe for disaster. 

I am innately aware of the fragility of the balance that they are hanging in right now.

I am aware and at the same time I am filled with optimism.

Because these babies didn’t just make their way to a facility to provide the emergency care that they needed last night, they made their way to a place that cares deeply for them.

A place that will fight to see them come out on the other side of this nightmare with hope, and LIFE.

A place that will do everything in it’s power to keep these babies out of an institution, and see them grow up in the presence of people who’s own blood runs through their veins.

A place that will envelop their young daddy in education and grace as he learns to care for his son and daughter.

A place that will stand on this middle ground and fight with them, and for them.

A place that you have provided.

Every single one of you who sacrifices so that you can send your hard earned dollars to us, you are the reason that we could say yes to this family. You are what enables us to always be here to fight these big battles. We could not do this without you.

Today in our 6 bed NICU we have 7 tiny newborns sleeping soundly. 4 of those 7 babies lost their mothers during childbirth or in the days immediately following. Lack of prenatal care and good delivery options is a massive problem for many women here, and for many families, welcoming a new baby is one of the most dangerous things that they can do.

I am inspired to provide care for our little ones, but I am also inspired to do everything I can to fight this injustice of maternal death.

Today my part in that fight that looks like me pointing you in the direction of 2 organizations that I believe deeply in.

Olive Tree Projects is a program in Jacmel, Haiti that has a midwifery center and provides lifesaving care to countless mothers and babies in their area.

Heartline is another ministry that supports a large prenatal program as well as birth center.

As you support our organization and our efforts I encourage you to check out the 2 organizations mentioned and consider making a donation to them as well, in honor of the mothers of all of our little babies who did not have access to the care that they so desperately needed.

Today two babies woke up for the first time without the person who they need more than anyone else in the world. We are heartbroken for them and their loss. We are also inspired, because they woke up surrounded by a group of men and women who now love them and are committed to them and their future.

If any beauty will be found among the ashes of this tragic story I for one and very thankful to have a front row seat to it’s unfolding.

Monday, April 2, 2018

2 April 2018

Both of these children were born in November of 2011.

The little girl on the right did not have access to breast milk, so she was fed good quality infant formula from birth. When she was 6 months old she started tasting little bites of food. When she was a year she ate table food and drank milk several times a day. She grew and developed well.

The little boy on the left also did not have access to breast milk. From the time he was a month old he was fed bean sauce and crackers crushed up in water. As he grew he added white rice and cornmeal mush to his diet. He drank water that sometimes gave him diarrhea from contamination. Sometimes he would get a piece of meat once or twice a week. His little body got used to surviving on very little and to compensate for his lack of nutrition his growth slowed dramatically.

Today both of these children are 6 years old.

The little girl weighs a healthy 60lbs. She is in 1st grade and she is learning to read.

The little boy weighs just 22lbs. He is learning how to walk again, and to sort little toys into groups by color.

THIS is the difference that proper nutrition in the first 1000 days makes.

This is why Espwa Berlancia is here.

Sebastien is not malnourished because of a temporarily difficult situation. He has been struggling and fighting to survive every single day of his life.

Sebastian has been hungry for almost 7 years, but in the past 7 days he has gained over a pound.

He will spend time here getting well and when he goes home he will never be hungry again.

His father is learning about how to take care of his son and how to run a business that will support them both.

Next year one of our generous donors will look at Sebastien and see hope and worth in him, they will believe in him enough to fund his education so that he can go to school for the first time.

For 7 years Sebastien and his father’s  lives have been hard, and full of pain, but 7 days ago everything changed. 7 days ago they found their way through our gates and found themselves on the road to healing and change.

When you support the work that Espwa Berlancia is doing you support healing for families and hope for their futures. Thank you for being a part of this with us.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

29 March 2018

Next week will mark my 10th anniversary of being in Haiti.

When I was little I said that when I grew up I wanted a job where I could just hold babies all the time.

Well, I got it, but that little girl had no idea what the fulfillment of that dream would mean.

No idea that holding babies meant holding them as they groaned in agony and sickness.

Holding them as tears streamed down their hollow cheeks.

Holding them as they fought for their lives.

Holding them when the fighting ended.

Had I known I never would have asked for this, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world.

I’m so glad I didn’t know.

It’s been 1 year 1 month and 11 days since I last found myself on this blank page, words flying from my hands on the keyboard. It’s been a year of silence. One year of having absolutely no words that I could possible say. One year of being so tired of being broken that I forgot how to be whole.

It’s been 1 year 1 month and 11 days since a little boy named Emano died and I found myself, for the very first time, pulling away from my day to day life with the recovery center.

I was tired.Tired of fighting the same thing every day with no end in sight. Tired of grief, my own and that which weighs heavy on everyone around me. Tired of falling in love with another one just to watch them fade away.

For a year I’ve been tired.

It seems like every time I find myself on this brink of ready to quit, God finds a way to remind me that even though I am tired, He is not.

He finds a way to remind me that even through the hard and heavy, there is hope.

He finds a way to show me that little by little entire families are being transformed by the work that Espwa Berlancia does.

This week He flooded our gates when my heart needed it the most.

In a 24 hour span 8 starving little babies found their way inside of our doors.

8 exhausted mamas and daddies entered our emergency room, and the road to change, and hope.

One little boy, 7 years old and just over 20lbs is a stark reminder of another little boy who came too late. My heart is still struggling with the battle of falling in love or holding back, but I am choosing that for this one, I will hope again.

These 8 will live, I’m believing that with all my heart. They will live and a month, a year, 10 years from now their lives will be drastically different than they would have been had they not arrived at our gates.

I will keep going, I know I will. Even on days when it feels like I cannot I will, because it’s on those days of my greatest weakness that He reminds me of His strength.

If you are willing to fight these hard battles with me it would be an honor to welcome you onto the Espwa Berlancia support team. You can sign up to donate as little as $25 per month, to be a part of this life changing work.

Visit our website at

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.