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.