A Health Initiative

 

alison

by Alison Praisewater

Though I write this article with excitement for the wonderful changes I’ve seen at this orphanage, I also write it with hesitation. I hesitate because I know all too well the harsh judgment that someone may cast over the orphanage staff that I have begun to call family. Please know that prior to our involvement, the staff here was doing the very best they could with the little education and resources they had.

Every single time now that a solution is found for a problem, there is nothing but praise from the staff here. They are so incredibly grateful that we have brought resources to solve so many of the health issues here. I have walked away from so many conversations hearing, “This has bothered me for a long time. I am so happy we have found a way to fix it.” These issues were not being ignored – they were simply unsolvable for so long.

Diagnosis

Once our Operations Team got established here on the ground last winter, it became easier to see the health issues facing the children; issues that are all too common in orphanages all across Haiti, where co-bedding and close living quarters are the norm. And when you have 53 children and one gets sick, it is never over fast.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, photos of our children were sent stateside to our passionate group of doctors who serve on our Medical Advisory Team. Photos of heads, bellies and rashes were
carefully examined, and our medical team was successfully able to diagnose these issues. A variety of skin conditions were identified, the majority being ringworm on the scalp, and scabies.

Treatment

The team got to work on a treatment plan and in January, Dr. Karina Atwell, M.D., who is a member of the medical team, came out to help implement the start of the treatment. Because the condition had been going on for so long, and the ringworm so severe, we needed a stronger medication than the typical topical cream. An oral medication was tracked down both stateside and in Haiti, and through the help of a donor, we were able to afford treatment for all 38 of the children who were in need.

A sticker chart was created and treatment was begun. For four weeks, the children knew they would get to take their pill after the evening meal and place a sticker on the chart by their name. We were able to make the event fun and one for which the children needed no reminder! Four weeks later, the appearance of the children’s scalps was amazingly improved. They no longer itched constantly, and they were much happier with their hair cut short. They enjoyed showing off their clean and healthy heads. The photos speak for themselves! They still use a preventative shampoo twice a week to combat dandruff and to keep the ringworm at bay.

Five of the younger children also received treatment for scabies, a condition common in co-bedding situations. Here too, the skin condition cleared up immediately upon treatment.

Prevention

We felt it was important to do more than just treat the illness. Preventing any reoccurence was even more important. After listening to the advice and recommendations from the Medical Advisory Team, the Operations Team here on the ground had our work cut out for us.

For a typical American, some of the following conditions may seem unbelievable. But just as I stated up front, when you imagine life in Haiti, I encourage you to try to think outside of what you consider comfortable and “normal”. We needed to attack the problems where they truly lay: in the beds! Children were sleeping in bed bug ridden mattresses in the clothes they had played in all day and in sheets that were rarely washed. Many of the younger boys sheets that were peed in nightly, were simply hung out in the sun to dry without being laundered.

Improvement

Our Operations Team, along with many Fond Blanc supporters, got right to work with Fre Theo at solving each of these problems. Volunteers washed and sanitized every sheet and piece of clothing we have in the new washing machine donated by one of our supporting churches. Sure Foundations for Haiti purchased new mattresses for every single bed in the orphanage. Next Step Ministries donated bedbug-proof covers for all pillows and mattresses, and a wonderful Board Member also donated plastic mattress covers for the little ones who still wet their beds.

When we asked for a few new sets of sheets, we received dozens! We couldn’t believe how generously our supporters responded to this crisis. Now every bed has not just one new set of sheets but TWO! And a church partner in Madison donated a new pair of pajamas for every child. No more sleeping in the clothes the kids had worn all day. Now the children get to change into clean pajamas every night!

With their new clean beds and clothes, the children adopted a new attitude. They are proud of their rooms, their beds, and yep, even their new pajamas! The squeals of joy from the girls when they saw their nightgowns are one thing I will never forget!

We also realized that we needed to get the clothes out of the bedrooms. Clean clothes were getting mixed with dirty clothes and they covered the floor and the beds, and were stuffed in the corners of the rooms. New closets were built by some Next Step friends and the clothes were neatly folded and arranged by child. At first, the children couldn’t quite believe how much clothing they owned until they finally saw them all organized in one place. The clothes are cleaner, nicer and much more accessible now! And the rooms are free from clutter, bugs, and those ungodly smells.

Last and certainly not least was the addition of underwear! Yep, you bet! Not a single boy in this orphanage owned underwear. Packs and packs of underwear were donated and every child received
5 new pairs. They were taught why it’s important to wear underwear and when to change your underwear (EVERY DAY)! I’ve never seen boys and girls more excited about receiving underwear. Superman, Transformer and Frozen-themed underwear has never been more appreciated!

Thankful

We are so thankful for all the changes we’ve been able to make because of your support. Fre Theo is most thankful of all as he is able to rest easy knowing the children are cleaner, happier and will stay this way longer.

It’s amazing to think about the small things that we take for granted and how they can make such a huge difference in someone’s life. The changes certainly didn’t happen easily. It has been a slow process and, remember, we were only given our first real authority to do anything in the orphanage in January, so we were still figuring out our own role when the health crises first came to our attention.

Here in Haiti there is no Target that we can just stop by and pick up a pair of underwear. It took a few months to gather donations and supplies and to get them out here to Haiti. But this has been a challenge that we are so incredibly grateful for. We cannot thank God enough for providing everything we need – including every single donor, like you!

Sometimes I’m in awe as I open my closet of donations to hand out soap or toothpaste to the children (yes, there were so many donations they had to build me a storage closet too!). To see them today, it is hard to believe that just months ago the children didn’t have these items. I am amazed by how life-changing a simple bar of soap can be in this place. Or how dignifying a new set of sheets can be. And how priceless a dance of joy in a new pair of superman underwear can be.

Thank you!

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