Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Sick Kid is a Happy Kid

Here in Haiti, I have had the opportunity to serve in many diverse roles;  massage therapist, mother, friend, child, daughter, face-painter, cook, nurse, tourist, servant, leader, follower, deliverer, secretary, pharmacist, and dietitian.

Today, I had the opportunity to serve as a nurse/ secretary for the children at one of the orphanages. My cousin (who is an RN) and I (a training RD-registered dietitian) broke away from the rest of our mission team to spend the day with the doctor sponsored by Healing Haiti. It is always so interesting being on this end of the mission work, you see so many different aspects that you don't see when you come to spend the day with the kids for crafts or swimming at the beach. While all those things are great for the kids' spirits, social interaction, and positive influence and affection, they are only temporary distractions from other things that may be occurring on a daily basis. My new motto is "No sick kid is a Happy Kid." 

Upon arriving at the orphanage, I realized that today I would not only see the kids for their check-ups, but I would be able to observe what their life is like when we dont come to visit and play. The kids were spread out all over the orphanage. Some of the girls were getting their hair braided by the older girls and some of the kids were just sitting on the cement steps leading to their bedrooms. Yvon rang the bell in the gathering room, and kids trickled in from all over. Before we knew it, the steps were filled with the orphans. Yvon started the kids in a prayer, which lead into a beautiful worship song. 

During our visit, we did check-ups on the kids that were sick or had signs of parasitic infections. In total, we saw 25 kids and 6 of them were noted as needing parasite tests. Many of the kids were iron deficient, some had bad coughs, one had bronchitis, one had cavities, another had an ear infection. There were a variety of conditions, but the one that stood out to me most was the little 7 month year old baby that appeared to be a new born. The baby and his 3 siblings were new orphans. We were informed that their mother had just died from cholera. We had seen the baby 2 days prior to the doctor visit and thought that he looked very lethargic and thin for an infant. I saw the baby last week and the week before, but thought it was a new addition to Yvon's family.  No wonder all the older girls in the orphanage were caring for the baby as though it was their very own; the baby was a new addition to all of their family. He was now one of them. During the visit, one of the orphan girls held the baby as Dr. Sem lifted the baby's arms and checked the baby's vitals. "Malnutrition", the doctor wrote in his medical notes. He looked over at me, "The baby will need infant formula." I wrote the doctor's orders on my list of reminders of things to get for our medical kit. All I could think of was the importance of mom's milk during the first few months of life. I couldnt help but wonder how long the baby has been without his mother's breast milk and if this has something to do with his malnutrition. From my knowledge in psychology and nutrition, the first few months of life and the first few years of life are crucial times in a human's life for proper brain wiring and physical growth. These years set the stage for the rest of the human's life. I pray for our new additions to the orphanage..

 While assisting Dr. Sem, I was also able to observe the children's activities occurring around me. For a while, everyone was just hanging out. Then a radio came in the room and children all gathered around. It sounded like a story was on the radio, and made me think of the stories I read about American Girl dolls that used the radio for entertainment rather than a TV. After the programing was complete, kids that were finished with their check-up started to play jump rope, some started to sing songs and joke around with Yvon, and others were just laying around hanging out with each other. 

While I was helping with medical filing, one little girl ran up behind me tap my back and ran away! She continued this little game for a few minutes and then acted like it wasn't her. She was absolutely adorable! A few kids sitting along the wall ledge near our work station would occasionally say "Kristina" .. I would look over and smile at them and one or two of the kids would point at the kid that was "responsible" for "distract" me from work. It was pretty cute.. 

The doctor visits are one of my favorite things to participate in with our mission. I am able to learn from the doctor, use my knowledge skill, and to see a different aspect to the kids health that I am not able to see from just playing with them. The doctor visits really get my left brain ticking and makes me wonder about different aspects of their water and food quality, their sanitary behaviors, and how the medicine we leave is distributed when we aren't there. My biggest concern for this children is getting them "caught-up" on their medical check-ups. Even more importantly, I am concerned about their diet. With my nutrition background, I know that a high quality and balanced diet can be the key to medical complications. Food can be a life long prevention to much bigger health problems.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Love is Here

Can you even imagine walking to work on a long road with hundreds of beat-up cars, tap-taps, and trucks speeding past you? As you look down at your black suit coat and see that it is no longer black, but is now grey. You have been attacked by a dust storm created by the vehicles on the road. The dust on your hands and face began to mix with the sweat from the beating sun above you. The dirt drips down your face, and your palms are wet with a clay like sweat. Your mouth feels dry and foamy as you realize you are extremely thirsty and the dry heat around you is not making things any better. You haven't had anything to drink for a day, but continue on...

Can you even imagine having to decide every day if you should spend 40 cents on a bucket of clean water when your budget is only $1/ day? (Water costs 40 cents for 5 gallons of water, and most people live on less than a $1 per day!) Do you go one day without water so you can afford enough food for the family? Do you go without water so that you can afford to send your child to school (school is not free here. There is no public school system like in the U.S.)? How are you ever going to afford to have surgery for your infant with an infect hernia, or afford your oldest child's visit to the dentist for his cavity? How are you ever going to have enough money to purchase toothpaste, clothes, or new shoes. There never seems to be relief or aid to get even the basic necessities for life.

Can you even imagine playing jump rope with an old beat-up string that is covered with dirt? You find a safety pin or even a nail in a pile of garbage near your house, and you flatten it out to make a knitting needle. You will use this to knit a new blanket once you are able to afford some yarn. Throughout your adventure you find a long string and a plastic wrapper. You tie the end of the string tightly to a hole ripped through the plastic wrap and let the wind sweep your new kite off the ground. Surprisingly, the kite flies with such grace through the big blue sky above you.

Can you even imagine living in a tent city that has very little lights and your neighbor's tent is literally a foot across the alley? You have been living in the tent for over a year and a half and finally have a designated areas for the bathroom and showers (because in the beginning, these were simply your backyard).

Can you even imagine having to go days without a shower or, if your lucky, taking a bath in a stream filled with dirty water and garbage?

These are just some of the many things my eyes have witnessed over the past few days. While my eyes have seen such tragedy and devastation, I am still awe struck by these people. Two buddies in Cite Soleil giving each other a "man" hug with big grins on their faces. Kids chanting "God is so Good" in the mist of the poorest and most dangerous city in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A grown man saving his friend part of his snack even though he may not have another bite to eat that day. A courtyard filled with children chanting prayers even though they are orphans that lost their parents or were dropped off simply because their family couldn't afford to care for them.

..It simply amazes me to find such love for each other and for God in a place were everyone is simply just trying to survive.

Feeling like a Ballerina

Today was my 3rd time bringing water into Cite Soleil during this mission trip and my 5th time ever in my life. You think that after each trip, I would be completely out of experiences or stories to share, but that just isn't true here in Haiti. Every time you bring water into Cite Soleil, your lenses change a little more and you start to see Haiti from a different angle. You see things you didn't even notice before, you feel something different, or your able to interact different with the children.

At our first water stop, I saw one of my young boys that I see every time we stop at his neighborhood. He always comes up to me and hangs out with me until it's time for us to leave. I like seeing him because he is such a sweet boy. We usually sing together and goof around! Today, he showed me his dogs and I met a few of his Zanmis (friends). Our inside joke is the "hey you give me one dollar" because that is something he asked me the first time, and I always reply with "hey you give me ten dollars." Just a side note, everyone here, even kids, that don't know any English, will say "hey you give me one dollar." Oh how I wish I could just give them all $10, but I know giving anything amongst all those kids would end up in total chaos. My little buddy asked for an English book today. He never really asks too much of me, but he wants a French to English translation book. I would love to purchase a book for him. I can't help but feel eager to help out a friend that wants to learn. Knowing more than creole here can help you get a job and can help you to go farther. Most kids that are educated speak English and some will even know Spanish.

Our next water stop was a place I remembered going to on my first trip to Haiti. I remembered the kids being a little more aggressive and less attentive in play than the kids at a few of the other stops we had been to before. However, today was different! These kids were a blast and were so eager to play! I started dancing to a "hey you" chant and all the kids wanted to dance with me. I love when the kids stomp their feet, clap their hands, and chant along. After our chanting, I showed the kids a little routine of split jumps and spins.. I felt like I was teaching dance class as I watched some of the kids mirror my activity! In the mist of chaos, heat, and dirt, I lifted my hands up over my head and spun around in a circle like a ballerina. I lifted my leg as though I was skating and smiled from ear-to-ear as I watched a few of the girls mirror my move. It was so beautiful. I felt so graceful and elegant as I pranced around the little stage.

After dance class was finished, we played a game of London-Bridges and some hand-games. I was so thankful for Junior's help today! He came over by me while I was with the kids, and he translated what they were saying to me. My biggest frustration about being here is not being able to have a direct dialogue with the people. I have been trying to learn creole from Junior and Fanfan to help understand what people are saying to me. One little girl wearing a pink dance outfit came up to me, looked at me in the eyes, and she said something to me in creole. My heart sunk as I was informed that she wanted a baby-doll-- to think of all the barbies and American girl dolls I had growing up, and she just wanted one of them. It probably didn't matter if it had hair, clothes, or even a missing limb. She just wanted a doll. 

Our third water stop was so exciting for me. I really felt like I was a Haitian child at this stop! The minute I stepped foot on their road, the kids swarmed and I was included in many of their games. A girl came over with a beat-up rope that was full of dirt and slightly wet from the water on the road. We started swinging the rope as a jump rope, and girls came running into jump over the rope. We were playing a game with the rope that I wasn't overly familiar with. For a while there was chaos with the kids as they tried to organize the game. Finally, one little girl took charge. She went up to each person and told them their order, and once she was finished the game began. One at a time a person would run in to the swinging rope, jump a few times, and then they would jump out when a new person came in! It was so cool to see the children do this, and it looked like it took a lot of organization and practice to get the game down. After playing jump rope, we played a Haitian version of London-Bridges. The Kids would chant something in creole, and I just followed the lead of one of the older girls. Once our game was complete, we ran over to the slides and started playing on their playground were we slid down the hot, metal slide and played monkey on a bar that looked like it used to have swings on it. Our last activity at the stop was my favorite, dancing and singing to "God is so good."

It still amazes me how there is so much simple play and joy in a place of such chaos and devastation..


Fanfan getting ready! :)

Monday was such a difficult and interesting day as the mission teams were transitioning. My first group packed up their bags, and I could feel the emotions for each one of my teammates; excitement to go home and see family and friends that had been missed, but sad to leave a place that they were now able to call home. I wrote each member of my group a personal message about how I saw them open up here in Haiti and that I hope they continue to grow into the children God is calling them to be. I hate goodbyes sometimes and was exhausted from the week, so I hugged them all as they left and didn't see them leave at the airport. Instead, I stayed back and had some alone time to regroup before the next mission team made their way into Haiti.

During my afternoon of transition, I started to feel like family here at the Healing Haiti Mission home. It was so neat to see the background activities happening as the next group was planning to arrive in a few hours. Fanfan wanted to go get an ID picture taken, so I told him to get all "dolled" up. Next thing I knew, he was in the back of the house using a small razor and hand held mirror and was shaving his hairline. I helped him to get the perfect hairline and before we knew it, he was on his way to get his picture taken! I stayed back and journaled for a bit. Then washed up some grapes and brought them out to the patio to share with Junior and Michael. While eating grapes, Junior told me that fruit is really expensive in Haiti and that he once bought it for his sweetheart. From my understanding, fruit is a delicacy item and someone will purchase it for their love as a sign of their affection. Being the nutrition person that I am, I was really interested to learn about the cultural significance of food items.

Before we knew it, Fanfan, Junior and myself were piling in the top-top to go pick up the next mission team at the airport! It was interesting being on the "other-end" of the mission group this time. I got to see the experience of the airport from the Haitian staff's eyes! Fanfan, Junior, and myself waited for the team for about an hour. As we waited by the gate, I sat with the guys on the bench and practiced creole and talked with them about the Haitian culture. People around us laughed as I struggled to speak the language with fluidity like the rest of them. I couldnt help but laugh too as I thought about how silly I probably sounded to them. While sitting there on the bench, Junior goes, "You know what I like about Healing Haiti.." he turned to look at me, "You come to help my people. You bring them water. You play with the kids." He explained to me all the aspects that he really liked, and he specifically told me how he liked that we let dirty kids touch us and that we play with them. It was really soothing to hear that our mission work here is appreciated by the Haitian people themselves. After my first mission trip here, I really caught myself questioning mission work in general, but I think the mission of Healing Haiti is awesome in the fact that we are able to employe Haitian staff and help them also help their own people. I told Junior that he was also helping the people through the mission because we couldn't get to the places we need to without his help. We wouldn't be able to speak with the Haitian's without Junior or Fanfan. We wouldn't be able to go into City Soliel without the water truck drivers or do any of our daily activities without our Haitian mission director, Jean. I helped Junior to see the significant role he also played in the mission and how he was helping his own people by helping us. I also explain to him that without the Haitian people, we would be instilling our American culture on these kids and these people. While the American lifestyle may appear ideal to many, it is not Haitian culture. This conversation really helped me to value our staff even more. After having been here for several days and have gotten to know these people even better than my first mission trip to Haiti, I feel a sense of deeper connection with all of them. They are starting to feel like family to me; like my Haitian brothers.

It was fun to see our new mission team come off the plane and out of the gates. They all looked excited to be here and to start experiencing Haiti! I felt a wave of energy come over me and felt ready to roll again. This week will be another adventure: new people, new activities, and a thousands of different lives that have the potential to be touched.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Playing Nurse

Yesterday was an eventful day Haiti and probably one of my favorite experiences in Haiti so far. I was able to sit down with our doctor at one of the Guillame’s orphanage and play “nurse.” Even though I went to school to be a psychologist and a dietitian, I had some knowledge of nursing behaviors from science and research experiences.
Dr. Sem, Shelley, and I set up the doctor “clinic” in the middle of the court-yard full of rocks and dirt. We put a few chairs, tables, garbage bags and a cleaning basin around the area where we would run our session. I almost felt like I was a small child playing a game of doctor in their backyard. The reality of my experience, however, was that my patients weren’t kids with made-up conditions, but these were actually sick kids with real infections and illness.

Our first patient came up to us with a big open wound in-between his toes. The wound was so infected that puss and inflammation composed the open sore. “Como se relije?” I asked him. With help from some of the orphanage staff, we were able to find his files in our binder. I handed it over to the doctor, and he asked me if I wanted to put gloves on and help, so I did. I put my gloves on and held the boys foot as the doctor cleaned between the toes and scrubbed the boys foot clean. He cleaned out the wound, which appeared to be painful.  I grabbed the little guys hand. His face looked as though the cleaning hurt, and he moved his body squearmishly as he tried to resist the pain. I could tell he was trying not to cry. The doctor finished cleaning, putting ointment on his toe, and prescribing medications, the boy was let go. Shelley found the prescribed medications and wrote his name on the bottles. The little boy put his crocks on and limped back toward where his friends were playing. It’s an interesting thing here being sick and not having always having any available resources, enough money to visit the doctor, or money to afford medications to treat curable diseases. It’s hard to watch the kids with open sores go back to play in the dirt and the scum and not have anywhere clean to play.

The next few cases of kids were infected with erythrocytes, which are scars on their skin. According to Dr. Sem, these scars are typically an indication of a parasitic infection and that the kids will probably need a feces sample to verify the indication. There was only one girl that Dr. Sem prescribed parasitic medication to because she had abdominal pain and other signs of parasitic infection. The kids that needed to be tested where prescribed medication for their wounds and the doctor asked to have parasitic sampling kits sent down next time so that he could check the kids that had signs of the infection. Being a nutrition person and having just done a research paper on parasitic infections, I was very interested in these patients and was able to understand the impact parasite have on nutritional intake. The problem with many third world countries is that parasitic infections exacerbate the malnutrition and further impact the immunity of many small children, which in turn causes things such as delayed growth, accessibility to other diseases, and can potentially end in death for those that have no treatment.

Dr. Sem and I also saw a few other cases of disease during our visit at the orphanage. One small girl had a hernia on her umbilical cord. According to one of our teammates, this could potentially lead to death if she does not get it treated. The doctor said that the only thing he could do at this time was prescribe a medication and hope that her mother can afford surgery. My heart ached to think of how many kids in Haiti walk around sick and infected with diseases, parasites, AIDs, bronchitis, and other treatable diseases, and to not realize how sick they really are. My respect for Dr. Sem and the significance of what he does for this kids at the orphanges Healing Haiti sponsors was heightened during this experience. I really started to see the importance of medical donations rather than donations of toys and candy. A sick kid is not a healthy, happy kid. They may pretend that everything is jolly and happy when you bring toys to play with them, but this experience is short lived. I started to see the importance and value of a regular physical and check-up.

Dr. Sem was awesome with the kids! You should have seen him! I couldn't imagine an American doctor sitting one-on-one with the kids and giving them the comfort and care that Dr. Sem provides during his consultations. I realized how important it is to have someone being able to speak the same language, to understand the diseases most common to the culture, and to be able to adequately identify signs and symptoms of the diseases.

The day was not just filled with sick kids and playing nurse. It was also Jean's birthday, so we had a party for him at the house and he brought over a few friends! It was probably my favorite meal at the house thus far-- lots of vegetables! Jean's friends were really nice, but I think we may have overwhelmed them a bit. After a fiesta, Jean took us salsa dancing to show us Haitian's "dancing with the stars." It was a blast!