Inspiration from the field: Visiting malnutrition clinics in Haiti

Inspiration from the field: Visiting malnutrition clinics in Haiti 

Working in a Finance capacity in the development sector makes it easy to get detached from the ‘front line’ and lose track of the organization’s ‘raison d’etre’ from time to time. I would find myself often confined to the office lost in spreadsheets and financial analysis, dealing with issues ranging from the mundane bank reconciliations to the strategic analysis for long-term organization sustainability. As the physical and emotional strains of being in Haiti caught up with me, I would find myself frustrated at being away from everything I considered ‘home’ and questioned ‘Why I was I even here’?

Fortunately, I have had the chance to visit the inspiring partner organizations of Meds and Food for Kids to recharge and return with a renewed sense of purpose. To me, these organizations in the ‘last mile’ and the people toiling away endlessly to save lives are the real heroes, and makes me realize that I have it pretty easy in my comfortable air-conditioned office in Haiti and expat housing with water, electricity and food.

I visited two such organizations around Port-Au-Prince recently, and returned inspired by the commitment of the staff and the miraculous recovery of malnourished kids treated with Plumpy’Nut, and be reminded of  just how privileged a life I have led, always being on the good side of the cosmic lottery.

This post is a tribute to the folks at the St. Francis Clinic and Real Hope for Haiti organization, who are doing incredible work for Haiti in the midst of tremendous adversity.

St. Francis Clinic in Waf Jeremie

Deep within the Waf Jeremie slum, a no-go zone for most NGOs in Port-Au-Prince, Sister Marcella first started a community centre which was destroyed by the earthquake and then a community clinic and orphanage, the only source of healthcare available to the ~75,000 people living in the slum.

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With gang violence and rampant robbery, the clinic is secured by guards, barb wire and high fences, and the orphanage seems to be an oasis of serenity, in complete contrast to the squalor and violence beyond the fence. With limited economic opportunities within the slum, it seemed like the epitome of the vicious cycle of poverty, after hearing from the nurse Andrea that many people born within Waf Jeremie end up dying there.

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The clinic staff have been frequently subject to gang threats, money extortion, held at knife-point and faced raids from corrupt policemen. Despite the adversity, Andrea, Sr Marcella and their team continue tirelessly to care for the people of Waf Jeremie, helping pregnant mothers prevent and treat malnourished children, fight cholera and provide refuge to abandoned children within the slum.

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Real Hope for Haiti Clinic, Cazale

Driving to this clinic through bumpy mountain roads and dried-up rivers gave me a sense of just how disconnected several parts of Haiti are. Scattered housing and no infrastructure to be seen, the clinic was the only form of healthcare available to villagers in the mountain, who would often walk 3 hours just to get a medical consult.

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Real Hope for Haiti is unique in the fact that it provides inpatient care to severely malnourished children, keeping them in-house until stabilized due to the seriousness of cases. Since it is a very rural community, farming and gardening is the primary source of food and income, and people remain very vulnerable to the vagaries of Haiti climate phenomena. A shortage of food combined with a lack of a balanced diet and limited access to water create a high occurrence of severe malnutrition along with other complicating conditions like anemia, TB and worms, often seen in the kids at the clinic.

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Visiting the in-patient room was incredibly moving, seeing about 30 children receiving great care, all in different stages of recovery from severe malnutrition, ranging from some that were still on drips to others playfully rolling around in their cots. Up close and personal to witness severe malnutrition in the flesh is disheartening, especially when you realize there are ~25,000 such children in Haiti, and there is often not enough funding to reach all these children. Children that do survive without treatment do not have a fair chance at life, with their permanent impacts to their physical, mental and immune system development.

It was encouraging to hear that malnutrition rates have dropped in the area over the last 6 years, from nearly 75% of kids visiting for treatment to currently under 50% of kids visiting the clinic. Although I saw great pain and sadness in some of the kids eyes, many were filled with hope and optimism, all vivid impressions that will remain with me well beyond my time in Haiti.

I wish Licia and the team at Real Hope for Haiti the best in their continued efforts to fight malnutrition in Haiti, do visit their website to find out more about the lives they continue to save on a daily basis.


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