Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Bringing Seeds and Gardening Supplies"

Little 14 year old me, 
14 year old me.

Wow-- You had no idea about the world, no idea about third-world poverty, and absolutely no idea about the opportunities/ educational paths ahead of you. You really didn't plan on going to third world countries-- you wanted to be a famous figure skater, a dietitian, then a dietitian AND a clinical psychologist. You never really planned for all this... It was merely just a short-lived phase in your life. 

 I found this in your diary. I would like you to re-read this carefully...

 March 20, 2003
"What is coming to this world! Diary, I want to make a difference in this world! I want to be remembered like Gandhi, like Martin Luther King JR, like Rosa Parks, and all those people that make a difference. I want to be like Mother Teresa. I want to help the poor!..I am going to go to poor countries and I am going to bring them food, water, and clothes. I am going to bring seeds and gardening supplies and teach them to make their own food. It's kind of like what Jesus said to do-help them so that they can eventually help themselves."..... "I want to be a role model. I want to change peoples' lives! Also, I want to be a disciple of Jesus!"

Your vision is quiet a big task for a young girl to accomplish. You have some big shoes to follow... some fine paths that have been paved. You may not be remembered like the great historical figures.  Your thought process are intense. Infact, I am not exactly sure where you would come-up with such ideas-- like "I am going to bring seeds and gardening supplies and teach them to make their own food." You really have no idea... NO IDEA AT ALL about the problems in poor countries. You just know they need the basics for life; food, water, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. You know nothing of the third-world problems and the histories of these countries. You know nothing of the people and their hardships. You just have a vision... a very intense vision. 

Little 14 year old me, I just want to tell you: that thought you had--- don't lose it. Hold on tight to it. That thought wasn't yours. This vision for your life wasn't yours. It is all apart of a greater plan. If you are wise, you will listen. You will listen very carefully to the silent opportunities and signs that appear throughout your life. Don't lose focus...stay awake.. or they will slip away. 

You will face many internal and external obstacles leading-up to these great duties. I am warning you that you will forget about this vision, and you will carry on with your life for 8 more years. You will want to give up on life. You will lose sight of the vision. You will face hardships and conflict. Consider them all a time for you to cultivate skills, to build confidence, and to prepare you for the great journey ahead. 

Again, don't cease the opportunities that fall into their places; listen to your heart and seek wisdom that has been instructed to you by the Owner of this vision. For one day, your vision, though not in it's entirety, will come true. 

Yours truly,

24 year old me

24 year old me-- a dietitian and nutrition advocate in Haiti

The kids at the orphanage I volunteer at in Haiti

Tree Farms in Haiti

Markets in Haiti

The markets are a place of community. A place where people not only come to sell their produce, but come to socialize and to connect. I love market days in our community... it's a chance for me to see the locals. 

Postlude: Today, a diary entry I wrote at age 14 came full-circle for me. As I sit here in Haiti uncovering all this information about the current Food Politics in the country, I find myself being astonished by this circle and the vision I had as a young-teen. At 14 years old, I had this "crazy" idea that has turned-out to be fairly accurate. It all comes back to the statement of bringing seeds and gardening supplies. I am learning that a lot of poverty, malnutrition, and health problems have stemmed from the lack of agricultural support. People have fled the country-side---giving up on their farming due to failed crops, intense labor, and poor income when they are able to produce adequate supply of produce/ grain crops for the markets. People have fled to the cities inorder to find job opportunities; many people selling imported foods (which are cheaper or perceived to be cheaper), trying to make business selling used clothing/electronics, or opening different shop services. However, the increased demand of people and jobs in small confide areas has further led to a multitude of problems: increased crime, an exponentially high unemployment rate (further exacerbating poverty/malnutrition/disease), and ease for disease/infection to transmit to the masses of people (further exacerbating poverty/malnutrition/disease). Ultimately, farmers become poorer because they have to compete with the imported goods, as well as the psychosocial patterns/ thought process associated with food and food behaviors. The solutions to the problem: education about the importance of a plant-based diet and create jobs in agriculture. Provide tools for successfully growing native foods, as well as foods that grow well with the soil and the climate in Haiti. 
Create a supply and demand for the plant-based foods, which would create less dependence on imported goods (which ultimately support the producers from the countries they have come from) and increase job opportunities/ reducing poverty. Not only would the agriculture create jobs  (farmers, sellers, and people who produce nutritious foods crops), but it would further reduce the rates of the systemic effects of poverty, transmitted diseases, and malnutrition. For more information about the current agricultural problems I am learning about in Haiti, see the links below. 

The 14 year old me had the answers--- give people the tools, help them to plant seeds/ grow gardens, and ultimately, help them to better help themselves. 

A few articles for reading: 

Key issues on Agriculture in Haiti- an introduction:
Haitian Farmers call on US to stop subsidizing its own (April 12, 2012):

With Cheap Food Imports, Haiti can't Feed Itself (March 20, 2010):

Haiti (December 24, 2012):

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Two Years ...and counting

Two years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I took my first mission trip to Haiti!! Today, January 1, 2013-- marks my 2 year Haiti anniversary. 

The kids were what captured my heart on my first trip to Haiti. 

December 31, 2010, I wasn't anxiously awaiting the start of a New Year with new beginnings... I was anxiously awaiting the flight I would be on at 6:50 AM the morning of January 1, 2011. It was an unexpected trip, booked just 3 weeks before departure. I couldn't resist the opportunity to travel to Haiti for 10 days to serve some of the poorest people in the world. While in Haiti, I had the opportunity to deliver water to people in the poorest slum in the western hemisphere, to hold a baby weighing 1.5 pounds at 6 months old, and to witness, firsthand, malnutrition/disease/poverty at its worst. Without hesitation, I walked on the feces and the piles of garbage that filled the slums; something no one expected from this neat-freak, germaphobe, perfectionist, girly-girl, and fashion-loving 22 year old (at the time). These memories have forever been engraved on my mind... on my heart.
Kids at Cite Soleil in 2011
Water Truck line in Cite Soleil 

Slum of Cite Soleil 

*Might I point-out that Haiti has so many beautiful attractions, amazing culture, compassionate people, and delicious native foods. I don't want to paint a poor picture of the whole country with too many devastating/ mind-boggling scenes.

A beautiful scene at the ocean!

The mountains of Haiti are beautiful with the lush green and crisp, clean air!

 I was completely shattered on my first trip to Haiti. Everything that I clung to... my security, my pleasures, my comforts and luxuries, my hopes and dreams..... they were all shook like a violent earthquake. I couldn't (and still can't) seem to grasp how a world like this could exist in the same world that I thought I knew. How could a world with over 7 billion people... with so many resources..with so many luxuries....  with so many opportunities.... allow HUMAN BEINGS to suffer with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. (I still find myself asking why and how there can be so much injustice in the world... )

Someday, I would love to give the kids in the slum opportunities they can't even fathom. 

Over the course of my first trip and the subsequential trips, I have established relationships with people and with a community that have forever shaped my life's missions (to walk with the people on margine's of bring justice, hope, and compassion to a world in need... to help solve world hunger). My life continually changes as I grow deeper in relationship with Haiti (the people of Haiti, the community of Haiti, and the people who care about Haiti)...I find myself letting go of more luxuries, more comforts, more securities...and seeking opportunities to LEARN so that I can be a better steward to the earth and the people that inhabit this space with me.

This is me with some of the future leaders of Haiti... Love these guys! :) 

I love spending time with the feeding center director and night cook!! 

 This is the kitchen staff for the Feeding Center at Grace Village.  I absolutely LOVE working alongside these ladies...
Mama Lynoue-- Our Operations and Feeding Center Director-- is an amazing young woman. It has been such a joy to get to know her as a person and a leader. 
Rosemond and Doloris (our two female guardians) have been such good role models and nurturing leaders for our kids at Grace Village. I hope our girls will be able to be world-changers... to be doctors, professors, scientists, and maybe even dietitians! :) 

Josue (far left) is our male guardian for the kids and a wonderful role model/leader for the youth of Haiti.

Today, I am incredibly thankful for taking that "risk" to travel to Haiti. A risk that was both mentally, emotionally, and financially an investment....A RISK TO NEVER BE THE SAME PERSON AGAIN.  My relationship with Haiti over these past two years has been worth the sacrifice, the joys, the sorrows, the heartache, but most importantly, the unconditional love... that comes with any meaningful relationship.

In two years, I have taken 6 trips to Haiti spending anywhere from 10 days- 6 weeks at a time (this next trip will be 9 weeks!!). Over the course of these two years, I have participated in a variety of experiences, initiated several programs, and started to uncover a whole new meaning of life. ( My "living to the fullest" never looked quite as full.... ).

Here is a picture timeline of my two years... I dont think I have enough time to tell you it all in words.

January 2011, 
I took my first 10 day trip to Haiti. And fell in love...

 June 2011,
I co-led my first mission team ....

 I stayed for three weeks that trip....

 1. Worked alongside a Haitian doctor...

2. Brought my mom to Haiti and watched her break open...


Fall 2011,
I was asked by Healing Haiti to investigate supplements for the kids moving to Grace Village...

Found this gem... Medika Mamba from Meds & Foods for kids.
January 1, 2012
I returned to Haiti again.....

1. In two days,  performed over 90 nutrition assessments (80 of them were children and about 10 of them elderly). Plotted all the kids on the WHO (world health organization) growth Charts and determined who would benefit from a supplement..


3. Received this message on my way home...

Spring 2012,
I continued to monitor the nutritional program/ growth of the kids from afar, while I finished my dietetic internship, took my boards, and become a Registered Dietitian. 


My internship director.
June 2012,
I led my first mission team to Haiti. All of the members were young adults. What an amazing opportunity to share Haiti with my generation...

June 2012
After my team left Haiti, I spent two weeks at Grace Village to work with the kids that were malnourished and worked with the Feeding Center... 

 Summer 2012,
While back in the US, I continued to monitor the kids from afar...

 September 2012,
I returned to Haiti for 3 weeks, ready to take on a whole new set of projects...

 1. Helped start a school breakfast program that provides a sandwich for over about 450 people- 5 days a week!(Hoping to expand this some day to a full meal).

 2. Helped the kitchen staff to enhance the micronutrient value of meals..

 3. Analyzed the food budget, researched foods in Haiti, and decided it's best to switch our kids to a more pesco- vegetarian focused diet... use more produce, increase use of nutritiously dense foods, and support the local Haitians without dramatically shifting the budget. The menu switch required experimenting with new recipes... like black bean burgers!

October-December 2012, 

For 6 weeks.. I worked with the feeding staff to continue experimenting with new recipes to increase use of native foods in the feeding center.....helped with staffing/ hiring/ promotion/ management...enforced health behaviors, food safety.... budgeting/costing out meals... (the list goes on). 

The pictures on the top are the old breakfast items, the pictures below the "breakfast" are some of our new menu items. We are using more eggs, bulgur, and peanut butter. 

The top pictures are the old menu, the bottom pictures are from the new menu. We are working on moving away from imported white rice to using grains (millet, bulgur, and native rice) from Haiti inorder to support the local communities in Haiti. We are also working on cutting out our use of excess fat, using more beans than meat/poultry, and trying to always have a nice portion of vegetables! 

The dinner menu has been the most drastic change for our feeding center. The kids used to just eat an oatmeal (flour, milk and sugar), a chocolate drink and slice of bread, a bowl of cereal.... 
Now the kids are eating a variety of colorful and nutrient-packed meals... we use beans ALOT. "Mock" sloppy joe's (made with beans), black bean burgers, avocado and bean sandwiches, beans with breadfruit, beans with squash... 

January 2013... and beyond.
I am returning to Haiti again January 7  for 9 weeks. I am excited to see what this next year will bring... what new opportunities will arise and what things I will learn. I look forward to the opportunities to continue working alongside the Haitian community to help them create meals that are nutritiously dense, as well as supporting the local farmers/ vendors (who are often poor due to competition with imported, convenient foods). Someday, I hope I will be able to target a larger audience in Haiti.. and to help them meet their nutritional needs by being creative with the natural resources available to them!