– La Gonâve, Haiti –
Personal stories written from the field about For You Haiti’s incredible sponsored children and patients
For You Haiti staff responded to a call in September 2015 that our Medical Director had received about a young girl in a far village. We received reports of her being starved to death and that she had a terrible disease covering her skin. Her mother had tragically died and her father had remarried a woman with eight children who did not accept Berlande as part of the family. She was known as an outcast in her community.
For You Haiti’s work primarily focuses on empowering families to stay together through medical assistance, small business and education, but in this case we knew Berlande needed urgent help and possibly needed to be removed from her current environment. Without our intervention, she would likely die.
Our team made a trip to Dub Saline to visit her. Following this, For You Haiti’s President, Child Sponsorship Manager and I had a meeting with Berlande and her father at our office about what the future looked like for Berlande. Her hair was bright orange from severe malnutrition and she was suffering from an intense eczema. We immediately offered medical assistance and educational opportunity. Her father explained to us that they thought Berlande was cursed and that she couldn’t live in their village anymore. After her mother’s death, they believed that the curse had been passed down to Berlande and no one wanted to go near her. It was the worst case of neglect we have ever seen.
I had just moved into a house that had a spare bedroom and I offered to have Berlande stay there as part of a boarding program so she could attend school and receive urgent medical treatment. Berlande agreed to go with us that day. We sent a driver to collect all her things from Dub Saline and he returned with a plastic bag containing one broken flip-flop, which was all she owned. In shock, we went shopping that night to get what Berlande needed. She was enrolled in school the following week and her uniforms were made.
Three years later: after a ton of love, regular meals, visits often from her sponsor in the U.S and continual medical treatment, our Project Manager, Berlande and I made a nerve-wracking trip back to Berlande’s village for the very first time. It was now August, 2019 and I wanted Berlande to reconnect with her father. We also needed to collect some information from him, such as her age, birthdate, and full name.
We drove in the hot sun for hours to reach her village. Berlande was dressed beautifully and we had her hair braided that morning. Her skin was glowing. There was a lot of silence in the car on the way, as we all knew there was a huge chance we might not find her father. God blessed us on the way with a sighting of 40 pink flamingos and they gave us the energy we needed to keep going! We arrived at Berlande’s village and people started calling out her name as they began to recognise her. Berlande confidently got out of the UTV and walked straight towards her childhood home. She greeted her stepmom and brothers and sisters with hugs, and it was a moment we will never forget. They then lead Berlande to her father. They hugged and we stood back in awe of this reunion.
No words could ever write how proud I felt of Berlande in that moment. I cannot even begin to imagine the courage it took for her to make this journey home. Her father took her on a village walk and then gifted her with a goat as a welcome home present. It was truly special. After a few hours, Berlande was ready to return ‘home’ to Anse a Galets. It was a successful trip. We learned that Berlande was soon turning 16! She and her father exchanged phone numbers. We discussed lots on the return trip and I asked Berlande if she would like to move back to Dub Saline to be with her father. Berlande said that her education had become important to her and as there are no schools out there, she didn’t want to move back there. She said she was happy to visit every second weekend and help her brothers and sisters with their studies.
The last three years with Berlande hasn’t always been easy. She was a broken girl with a heavy past. We have loved her every step of the way. By far the most rewarding thing we have ever done in our work at For You Haiti is to see Berlande become confident enough to return to Dub Saline to face her past head on. This day was life-changing for us all. We believe our role at FYH is not to judge others, but to love others unconditionally.
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life that want you in theirs. The ones that accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what”.
Reflection written by Alana Kaye.
In February 2019 For You Haiti received a tiny patient at our office by the name of Podolsky (baby Po). Po was severely malnourished. He was almost 2 years old and couldn’t crawl, walk or talk. He came with his mom, who is a single mother. She had never heard from the father since he received the news that she was pregnant.
We could see baby Po’s heart beating outside of his tiny chest. He didn’t smile and if anyone tried to touch him, he cried. He was weak, starving and clearly in pain. We sent him to the hospital for tests and the results found him to have an unbalanced AV canal, a severe left AVV insufficiency and a muscular VSD. They told us Po was in urgent need of lifesaving heart surgery. The major concern was if Po’s pulmonary pressures continued to rise and if he did not have intervention soon, it would make him inoperable. We found out that this type of surgery cannot be done in Haiti, so our Medical Director, Ada did her best to find an international organization that would accept Po as their precious, little patient.
As the days turned into weeks, we knew Po was suffering. He and his mom didn’t have a place to live or anything to eat. We didn’t have a surgery date yet or a hospital overseas that had confirmed they could take Po for heart surgery. Our President, Samuel offered baby Po and his mom, Sherline, a room in For You Haiti’s house to use while we pushed on with Po’s medical journey. Po got a sponsor that assisted with medical appointments, medicines, travel and food. With a place to live and food to eat, this depressed and starving little boy began to light up at every meal. He started smiling and taking his first assisted steps. We were amazed at the progress he was making. We learned that he loves music, playing with the neighbors and getting out and about on outings in the car or walking. He didn’t like to stay still and he didn’t like to lie down. We noticed Po would flourish with one on one attention and his mom learned to care and cook for him while she stayed with us.
Po dealt with a lot of medical complications during this time and was put in hospital again on the 22nd December with a bad flu, fever and vomiting. We all made a Christmas wish that Po could be home for Christmas. On the 24th December Po got to come home. We were SO happy! Shortly after, we received the confirmation from our friends Owen and Kessy at Haiti Cardiac Alliance that Chain of Hope in the UK and Saint Joan de Déu Children’s Hospital in Barcelona, Spain had accepted Po as their patient and would book him for heart surgery!
On February 23rd, we flew to Port au Prince with baby Podolsky and Sherline. Jony Pierre, For You Haiti’s Medical Coordinator, accompanied Sherline and Po and served as an interpretor, supporter and friend. It was Podolsky and Sherline’s first time going on a plane and it was a huge journey for both of them! We made it to Barcelona on February 25 th, 2020 where the team from Saint Joan de Déu Hospital and Chain of Hope, UK were waiting for Po with open arms.
After a day of rest, Podolsky’s medical tests began. There were a lot of new faces and Podolsky was overwhelmed. We did some outings to the zoo and aquarium and walked around the harbor when Po didn’t have anything on his schedule to get him out and about. Po then went in a week later for a cardiac catheterization. From the results, his surgeons would determine whether heart surgery was possible.
We received the news that SJD Medical team had booked Po for his first open heart surgery on March 11th, 2020. Po was admitted to hospital the day before and slept well the night before his surgery. Sherline woke early to prepare her boy for the big day ahead. Nine hours later, Po was in recovery and we received the news that Doctor Caffarena, Doctor Toledo and their team had successfully repaired Po’s AV Canal. Po went to ICU for 4 days after his surgery and then was moved to a ward. During these hours the world outside the hospital walls began to change before our eyes. China, Italy and Spain had gone into complete lockdown after thousands of people were suffering from COVID19, also known as coronavirus. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown in Barcelona, Jony was put into isolation for 14 days and unable to see Po or assist Sherline with anything. He was not able to leave the house during those days.
Over the next 12 hours, Po struggled to breathe on his own and he had a huge amount of blood pumping into his lungs. To complicate matters, the residual from his open-heart surgery shunted across the muscular VSD and this placed him in decompensated heart failure due to pulmonary pressure. We had one very sick boy on our hands. Po went under for urgent lung surgery and then surgeons made the decision to try to close the VSD percutaneously via cardiac catherization. In the middle of these two surgeries, Po’s Mom Sherline got sick with a fever and was sent home for the weekend due to COVID19 concerns, leaving baby Po alone in the hospital all weekend. The results came back negative and Sherline was able to return to the hospital a few days later. Po went under for cardiac catherization that day, but because of the size of the defect made it impossible to deploy the device correctly. We received the news that Po needed further open heart surgery.
Two days later, Po underwent further open-heart surgery. The surgeons and the medical team at SJD did a pulmonary banding in order to ameliorate his symptoms. Po stayed in ICU for 2 weeks following this on oxygen. He and Sherline facetimed with friends and family back home in la Gonave to keep their spirits high during this difficult time.
We then received the news that Po will need to be brought back to Spain to close his VSD permanently once his heart is bigger. We hoped more than anything that everything could have been repaired during the first trip, but we know that God has a plan for Po and has his best interest at heart. We received the news from Doctor Caffarena and the Medical team that Po will be in average health until his next trip to Spain. Following the VSD closure surgery, Po will then be a normal boy! We then made a decision as a team to have Sherline and Po continue to live at our home until then. We feel it of utmost importance to have him living under the care and supervision of a Doctor, in a clean environment, with 3 meals a day.
There are no words how proud we are of baby Po. This journey to the other side of the world for medical treatment has not been easy on him by any means, but we hope every step of this journey will be worth it once he is thriving! We are SO grateful to so many people that cared for Po during his time in Europe. We will never know all the names of the incredible staff in ICU and all the people that loved Po during his months there, but we are full of gratitude for each one of you.
Reflection written by Alana Kaye.
It was just a normal day in April for us. Jony and I had been on the road, visiting patients and traveling back and forth to the office between visits. Jony was learning to drive. He has one arm and driving had been a skill he had wanted to tackle for quite some years, so we were doing lessons as we visited patients. As the afternoon was coming to a close we drove back to Terre Rouche where our home is situated on la Gonave island.
We have a big iron security gate at the front of the property that the kids like to open when they hear a car coming in the driveway. Kensley opened the gate on this particular day and we drove in the driveway. I saw all 7 kids in our sights. We parked the car and just as always, the kids ran to greet us. As I opened my door I saw where every child was and still to this day so vividly remember each child’s position in that exact moment. I grabbed my handbag and turned to greet Dada and Darli who were closest to me. As I pulled them close to hug them both at the same time, I saw our gigantic iron security gate had come off its hinge and was falling straight towards the kids and me. The gate takes 10 solid men to lift it and could crush someone to death on impact.
In the moment that it collapsed, I could see Kensley was behind the gate and I could see it had missed Berlande by about a metre. She had seen it coming down on us. I could also see Kenicha and Barns, (the two little ones) running up the driveway and were a few metres back. But I could not see Esté. I could not see where Esté was at all. At the time, Este was 7 years old and severely malnourished. She was extremely thin. With growing horror, I realised that the gate had just completely crushed Este from head to toe, as she was in the middle of the gate on impact. She was now trapped underneath.
I took one step towards the gate and lifted it in one movement off Estè. (In that moment, I knew that my strength was not my own and that God was with Estè through every moment.) Underneath I found precious Estè. To my amazement, she was alive. Her head was gushing more blood than I had ever seen in my life, but she jumped into my arms. Her face reflected her fright but amazingly, she was conscious and breathing.
I ran to the car with Este in my arms and sat back in the car with her on my lap. Jony reversed out of the driveway as quickly as possible. Senance, Este’s sister (who is in her 30’s and cares for Este) jumped in the car to go with us. Jony got us to the hospital in record speed (and was driving with one arm). I held Este in my arms as tight as I could to stop the bleeding. She was conscious and cried and screamed the whole way. Senance was screaming also and I was screaming at Jony to keep driving as fast as he could and to keep his hand on the horn. It was like something out of a movie. As I held Este, I prayed there would be a doctor that could see us and help us. Often on la Gonâve there are long periods of time where we have NO Doctor on the island.
I called Samuel on the way and told him we had an emergency and he needed to meet us at the hospital. Incredibly he was waiting for us with one of the ER doctors in the driveway of the hospital. Thank God. I jumped out of the car with Este and Doctor Michel, the ER doctor, took Este in his arms and took her straight into the emergency department. He stitched Este’s head and examined every inch of her tiny body. He let Jony, Samuel and I know that Este did not have any brain damage, nor did she have a broken nose, any smashed teeth, her back and neck were perfectly well and he believed that she did not have a single broken bone. We shook our heads in awe!
After Este was fully stitched up and her head was bandaged, we were ready to head home. When we pulled into the driveway of the house, the gate had been moved by all the men in the neighbourhood and the kids and neighbours were all standing around. There were a lot of people. As we approached in the car, my window was down and the children all saw that Este was alive through the window. They started screaming her name and crying and began to dance, sing and clap. It was one of the most memorable moments of my entire life. We carefully got her out of the car and no one could believe she had survived the accident. The kids hugged her and I have never seen them so joyful.
We moved inside and I set Este up for the night in my bed. We knew she would likely get worse through the night and she would likely be in extreme pain once the anaesthetic wore off. I stayed awake all night to check on her every 30 minutes. She continued to tell me “Matant, (Aunty) I don’t have pain, you should go to sleep now.” I told her I would not sleep and that my role was to check on here through the night and that she was my only priority during these days. In the morning, Este woke and said she wanted to go to school. I told her she would NOT be going to school and that she would be resting in bed all day and I was going to bring her food. She told me that I was not understanding her words….and that she felt NO pain. I just couldn’t seem to believe it. She refused to take any pain medicine over the next 48 hours and just smiled every time I offered it to her.
Este is our walking miracle. We believe God saved her life that day in April and amazingly he did not let her feel any pain in the hours and days after her surgery. 10 days later Este returned to get her stitches removed and didn’t flinch during the procedure. Este is one in a billion. She is a beautiful soul inside and out. Our lives all would have never been the same again if she had lost her life that day. I am thankful every single morning when I wake that God saved her.
Reflection written by Alana Kaye.
Chelda is a beautiful girl from La Gonâve Island who our team has been working with for the last two years. Carmy, our Project Manager, received a call from a friend to pay a visit to Chelda in 2018. So, Carmy and I headed off in the car to find her. When we arrived, we found a sickly thin young girl sitting in the dirt, half naked and trying to eat a piece of bread from the dirt. There were mice around her and it appeared she was toileting and eating in the exact same spot. The area smelled terrible. As we approached Chelda we could see that she did not have any movement from her waist down. She was paralysed and her legs were the skinniest part of her. We greeted her, but she could only say a few words. Her brother came out to talk with us and explained that 7 years ago when Chelda was 9 years old she was completely normal. She attended school, was top of her class and lived with her loving family. She was a happy girl.
Her brother explained that one afternoon Chelda was on her way home from school and she suddenly had a seizure and became paralyzed. Very soon after her accident their mother passed away. Chelda did see a doctor on la Gonâve that told the brother she had become paralyzed and would never be able to walk again.
For the next 7 years Chelda had lived her life in the dirt. She did not have a wheelchair or bed. She did not have diapers or any clothes. They had no food. Chelda was slowly starving to death. It broke our hearts to hear this story. We asked many questions over the next few hours. The brother showed us the inside of their dirt home and showed us how difficult it is to shower Chelda and move her inside and outside. They didn’t even have a chair for her to sit on. This was poverty at its absolute worst. Our team were determined to see Chelda live a better existence and raised money immediately to get her a wheelchair and change of clothes. Our medical team put Chelda on Plumpy’ Nut (a miracle paste for severely malnourished children). We dropped more supplies back after raising money for diapers, soap, shoes and a mattress.
After I left Haiti, Carmy continued to visit Chelda daily. He made it his work to check in with her everyday to see if he could improve her life even by the smallest of means. To our amazement after just one month of Carmy’s daily visits he had Chelda walking around the neighbourhood. We were absolutely speechless. To see Chelda not only up off the dirt but walking down the street was absolutely the highlight of our year! A beautiful girl that had lost 7 years of her life by sitting in the dirt in filth. Chelda’s remarkable journey reminded us all that no good deed is too small and time spent helping another in even the slightest way is never wasted.
“A little love goes a long way. Try it!”
Reflection written by Alana Kaye.