Reflections by MFK’s new nutrition fellow
My name is Sarah, and I am a nurse. I recently accepted the fellowship with MFK’s nutrition team. This year I will be working alongside Roudelyne and RoseCarline, two brilliant Haitian nurses. We work with several local clinics, schools, churches, and other NGO programs in Cap-Haïtien to search for and treat malnourished children. Our nutrition team uses Medika Mamba straight from the factory warehouse. We drive all over northern Haiti so we can distribute the mamba to those who need it most.
The first little girl I assessed on my first day at clinic had plump cheeks, white eyes, drooling, and giggling with her mother. And there were lots of healthy kids. Babies that know where breast milk is and know how to ask for it. Cries that fill the waiting room in our clinics. I watch the two Haitian nurses I’m teamed up with take the babies height and weight and smile proudly when they say to the mothers their baby is healthy.
Yet poverty shows herself in the glazed over eyes, lusty cries, and apathetic stance of the starving children that are carried by worried mothers through the clinic door.
I see these children come into clinic, and I listen to their lungs, usually congested. I look beneath their eyelids, pale, usually anemic. I undress them so I can take a photo for the before and after program evaluation, and it stops my heart each time when I can feel their ribs and scapula slide beneath their skin under my hands. I always take special care to redress them and give them a little hug of some form before I hand them back to their mother.
The children that are really sick are like the fragile Christmas ornaments I used to hang on the tree with my grandma. Beautiful treasures that need extra special attention as we hooked them onto the Christmas tree. Delicate features providing beauty for all the family to share, but so fragile.
The first week of work for me was difficult. It was hard to see poverty at this extreme. I’ve been exposed to poverty before when I went on my first volunteer trip to Tanzania two years ago. But working specifically on a malnutrition project where my exposure to what “hunger” actually looks like broke me a little.
Yet, Roudelyne and RoseCarline work tirelessly to deliver our mamba and even after just a few weeks of work I’ve seen progress. Just like my grandma’s delicate Christmas ornaments are resilient enough to survive years of being placed on the tree, the children here are resilient. There is love in the clinic. Between the mothers and their babies, obviously. Also between the mothers who sit together waiting for their baby’s name to be called by the nurse. They share the same concern, the unimaginable anxiety about the survival of their children. There is love shared between the nurses and the babies. The nurses swaddle the newborns, give the toddlers a kiss on their head after taking their height, and softly place their hands on the shoulders of mothers while they explain how to use mamba so the peanut butter paste will save their child’s life. And there’s love for me too. I’m not exactly sure why yet. I feel as though I’ve learned ten-fold of that that I’ve been able to offer. Yet I am welcomed with exuberant Haitian smiles and warm Haitian kisses on my cheeks at each clinic we go to. As I struggle with speaking the local language, the women giggle and then offer me attentive assistance as I try and pronounce the unique Creole words so we can offer each other well wishes and mutual appreciation.
In 2017 Roudelyne, RoseCarline, and I are going to attempt to grow our nutrition program so that we can reach as many malnourished children as we can. It’s a slow process and can be difficult at times. Yet Roudelyne has exceptional skills in networking, she knows the community backwards and forwards. RoseCarline is an exceptional educator, she knows the mamba protocol and how to transfer those guidelines to the nurses at our local clinics. We are working on sustainability, access, quality, and most importantly survival. I am absolutely honored to be a part of this team. I am ready for the huge learning curve I am about to experience.