Friday, December 5, 2014

HAITI :: Maybe it's not about them...

Proud teacher with her students
So often we go on a mission experience to help... to show compassion... to do something good for someone else... to show love. We come with expectations of how we will serve and the impact we'll make. 

We've got it all figured out in advance. We may not know every detail of how every moment will play out, but we have our checklist of what we have to do for "them" and if we can check those things off our list, we can label the trip a success.

But what if the trip isn't about "them"? 
What if it isn't about the good we'll do for others? 

What if the trip is about "us"? 

What if the circumstances that unfold provide the team bountiful opportunities for personal and spiritual growth? What if the importance of the experience isn't in the "doing" but rather what is being done to us? 

What if the relevance of the trip lies in the details that don't make the headlines (i.e. how many children served, how many teeth pulled), but those that strengthen the fabric of our souls? What if those minute events change our perspective and expand our hearts, far beyond the scope of this single trip? 

Could it be that our presence in Haiti had a deeper relevance than simultaneously operating a medical and dental clinic for children with disabilities in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? By all means, those things are important, even critical. To alleviate a person's physical pain so they can live more comfortably and in a better state of health is both compassionate and loving.

But what about the other less glamorous moments? The times when we weren't doing anything on our assigned lists. 

When Phillip played with a child with a cleft palate sporting
a bigger brighter smile than all of us combined...
When John patiently had his hair braided...
When Auguste, a blind child, "brailled" Sonya's face...
When a boy with no hands learned to draw with his feet...
When Claire taught a child to play...
When Jaden had the chance to comfort a crying blind child...
When we fed crackers softened in infant formula to a 6 yr old
who will never hold up her own head...
When we performed the corniest rendition of 10 Little Monkeys
Jumping On The Bed for St. Vincent's students...
When a boy spontaneously started break dancing...
When the bell choir played Oh Suzanna for Dr Susan
When a teacher danced with a group of elementary students
to the sound of Claire's singing and guitar

Maybe it's these moments that we are meant to have and reflect on when we re-enter our busy lives outside of Haiti. Maybe it's the strong faith and joy that we see in so many underprivileged and underserved children that keeps us coming back for more. 

Maybe, just maybe, they are here to heal US, not the other way around.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

HAITI :: So close to walking; Wes's last obstacle to receive her first life-changing surgery

Nadine and little Wes
It’s hot this Tuesday afternoon in Port-au-Prince when our driver, Jonas, picks Jaden and me up for the drive to Bercy, some sixteen miles to the northwest. But then again, it’s always hot in Haiti.  

Bercy is Wes’ home. This is our first meeting with the sweet-faced eighteen-month-old we’ve only seen in photos. It’s important for The Red Thread that this meeting goes well, not just with Wes, but also with her teenage mom. While our immediate goal is to get Wes clubfoot surgeries on both of her little feet, our ongoing goal is to establish a long-term relationship with this little girl and her mother.  

Wes will need care and follow-up after her surgeries for the best possible outcome. This is The Red Thread’s way. We make every effort to meet and build a relationship with parents or caregivers of the children we help so we can better understand the child’s needs and meet them as a team. Each little one is precious to us, just like our own children, and we seek the best possible care for them.  

In return, all we ask for is the parent or caregiver’s consent to treatment, open communication throughout the process, and the family’s active participation in the child’s care.  




As we turn onto National Route 1, we are amazed at how quickly the urban concrete cityscape of Port-au-Prince slips away, revealing open spaces and banana, palm, and beautiful flowering trees. Goats, rams, and the occasional cow or donkey dot the landscape around us. We drive through Canaan, an area that formerly housed a mountainside of tents housing displace people following the earthquake.

Passing through several small villages we get our first glimpses of the Haitian coast and the stunning blue waters beyond, places that would surely lure tourists if it were not for the surrounding poverty. Addresses are not always easy to find in Haiti, but after carefully searching, we find the driveway for CPR-3, turn down the dirt road and into the compound.  Here, we’re warmly greeted by Amanda, one of the CPR-3 team coordinators, holding her infant daughter.

After a brief tour of the facility, Amanda and I get to the heart of the matter while we wait for Wes and her mother, Nadine, to arrive: what are our two organizations—The Red Thread Promise and CPR-3—going to do for little Wes? What will our intervention on her behalf look like? How will this partnership work to afford this child full use of her feet? How will the expenses—$4,000 for both feet to be repaired—be covered? 

Soon Nadine arrives with little Wes in her arms. This little one is just as adorable in person as she is in the photos we’ve seen! Sweet eyes, chubby cheeks, and a tiny tongue that likes to peek out from between her lips makes Wes extra huggable! Nadine, on the other hand, is apprehensive and reserved, donning the typical emotionally-barren face so common among Haitians when dealing with strangers. 


Nadine, Wes, Sonya, Amanda and baby Adilyn
So we do what we do best - we begin to build a relationship with Nadine. As I ask questions and get to know Nadine, Jonas and Amanda gently put the young mother at ease. Before long, Nadine begins to share bits and pieces of her personal life: Wes’s near drowning, her current living situation (bouncing from family member to family member), Wes’s absent father, and Nadine’s own concerns about her daughter’s development. We listen and, in turn, share our hearts for the betterment of this young family.

I stress how much we care about both MOTHER and her child - our intervention is to help this young family as a unit, not just Wes, so they can both thrive in their own country. If Wes’s feet are corrected, it will lift a burden off both Nadine (as caregiver) and Wes as a community member. I explain that our goal is to help Wes develop into an independent child, capable of eventually living on her own. If we are able to correct her feet so she can walk normally, her future will be vastly improved, allowing her mobility that she may not otherwise have. I tell Nadine that we want her active involvement in her daughter’s care; that she will not be a bystander, but rather a partner in all appointments, surgeries, follow ups and physical therapy. And I encourage her to stay close to CPR-3 as they are her main support system on the ground.


Nadine and Wes leading Sonya, Jaden and Jonas to her aunt's home in Bercy
Nadine listens attentively, answering all of my questions, and even agrees to take us to the home where she is living, with her aunt and many cousins. When we approach the small cinderblock home, her family brings out the few mismatched chairs they have so we can be comfortable. We settle into this warm display of hospitality, playing with the children and talking.


Cousins




We are so grateful for our meeting with Nadine and for the opportunity to be a part of Wes’s care. We are also thankful for the opportunity to partner with CPR-3 in meeting this young family’s medical and spiritual needs.

Wes’s 1st surgery is scheduled for January 2015. Her last obstacle is to raise $2,000 for her first club foot repair. Dr. Bheki Khumalo (West TN Haiti Partnership) has graciously committed to performing the surgery FREE OF CHARGE! However, The Red Thread Promise must cover fees for her pre-op tests, anesthesia, the rental of a sterile surgical suite, the nursing and surgical staff, and Wes’s follow up care all of which are unavoidable.

We can change Wes’ life now and create a future in which she can live independently and care for herself; this is doable. Think of it: if a single church with a congregation of 2,000 people each gave $2, BOTH of Wes’s feet could be repaired, changing the course of this child’s life forever. 

CPR-3 and The Red Thread Promise need your help today to proceed with Wes’s treatment plan. So far, $300 of the $2000 needed for her first clubfoot surgery has been raised for her care. We need to secure the remaining $1700 by December 31, 2014 to ensure that Wes can receive this life-changing surgery in January. An additional $2000 will be needed to correct her other foot later in 2015.

Now is the time to show Wes that we really do care. Donations in her name can be made to The Red Thread Promise via PayPal (button on sidebar) or check (address in upper right). Please write "Wes" in the subject line when possible. If there is no subject line, please email Kathy and let us know how you want your donation specified. With your support, we can change the course of this little girl’s life.

Wes's adorable little feet

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

HAITI :: Love, not pity; St. Vincent's food update


It is Thanksgiving eve. 
Our team of 11 has just returned from eight days in Haiti at St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. In the USA, tomorrow we’ll sit down to a table groaning with more food than we can possibly eat, a rich bounty of flavors shared among family.
Yet my heartstrings continue to be tugged by the children we saw last week at St. Vincent’s.
We had arrived to welcoming greetings in sign language, Kreyol, English and a multitude of hugs. Our team is well known to these children and the staff who care for them. We’ve made countless trips here to help these special kids who are blind, deaf, missing limbs, unable to walk, some unable to even hold up their own head. With these smallest of gestures, these gentle little ones healed our hearts that had been broken for them time and time again.
The purpose of our visit last week was to conduct both a medical and dental clinic, which we completed during the course of our stay. However, as always, our favorite moments were spent talking, playing, singing, dancing, and creating art with the kids. We love them like our own—they are extensions of our family.
But when mealtime came, our healed hearts broke all over again. While the food situation has improved slightly, it is still abysmal compared to what it should be. Some mornings, they receive a bit of bread and butter or some gruel. Thankfully, every day around 3:00 p.m. everyone receives a bowl of beans and rice. These photos were taken on Sunday, the day where they get a tomato-based sauce to go over the meal and even a morsel of meat.
Sunday's meat sauce
At first the kitchen staff was apprehensive about us taking photos. Their frowns turned to welcoming smiles when they realized that we were there to HELP bring awareness to their plight, their need, their hunger – and that our desire for that awareness is based on love, not pity.
Genie in the kitchen
We are thankful but the need is great.
Like many others, The Red Thread Promise emphasizes thankfulness this week. We are so thankful for all of the support we have received via your gifts. You have given $3,961 to date. This provides 5,281 meals to the children!
What we need now is to ensure that the children of St. Vincent’s get 3 meals a day. The beans and rice they are currently receiving will keep them from starving; but nothing more. 
The cost for three meals is just $2.25 per child per day. For less than the cost of an average latte, a child can eat for an entire day! As we approach this season of overabundance and joy in giving, we know that we can do this, that you can do this.

Donations to feed the children can be made to The Red Thread Promise via PayPal (button on sidebar) or check (address in upper right). Please write "SV food" in the subject line when possible. If there is no subject line, please email Kathy and let us know how you want your donation specified.
Taking steps toward self-sufficiency.
For food for the future, The Red Thread Promise has become part of a project to bring both aeroponic and aquaponic gardening to St. Vincent’s. We estimate that this project will begin in 2015 and are excited to help set the groundwork for St. Vincent’s to become self-sufficient. In the meantime, we need to continue to feed the children. Your gifts make this possible. Thank you for everything you are able to share with these children.
~ Sonya Yencer & Glenna Fisher

Friday, November 21, 2014

HAITI :: Saying No

Port-au-Prince street vendor


From the moment you step out of the Touissant L’overture airport, poverty slaps you across the face. You smell it in the trash along the street and on the sweat-drenched bodies; you taste it in the dry dusty air; you see it on the cinder block walls and tin shacks; you know it when you see the look of anguish on people’s faces. 

When a thin child with thread-bare clothing and holed-shoes walks up to you, rubbing his stomach and saying “hungry” (possibly his only English word), how do you say no?

That’s what happened when we went to St. Christof. It is a sacred place, where 1,000s of bodies were buried in mass graves following the earthquake in 2010. The morgues were overflowing and the decay so great in Port-au-Prince that bodies were disposed in the only way possible. Soon after the area was covered in small black crosses remembering those who lost their lives. 


St. Christof after the earthquake (2011)
St. Christof today (2014)
Our team always makes a point of stopping at St. Christof with both seasoned and new team members. It’s a time for remberence and reflection. This trip was no different…but for the child.

THIS child, walking up to the team, saying “hungry” was too much. Our hearts too weary from the week and everything we had witnessed. The goodbyes from St. Vincent’s were still fresh on our tongues. 

We all *know* about the poverty in Haiti. We’ve read the statistics. We’ve seen the pictures on TV. We’ve even watched the masses pass us by us first-hand when we drive to and from St. Vincent’s. But when a single child lumbers up to you with his hand rubbing his stomach, it’s enough to bring our team into a sobbing mess.

As we ushered everyone back into the van, the tears turned to anger. WHY can’t we give him a dollar? Just a dollar? Or a lollipop? I’m so MAD!

We are GLAD you are mad! It’s NOT right. It’s NOT just. But it is the reality in Haiti and our good intentions are often misguided. 

Long-term effects

Giving that single dollar or lollipop only perpetuates deeply rooted problems already present in Haiti:
  • first and foremost it makes it dangerous for the child - our generosity would put him at great risk - if someone sees him with a gift from us, he will likely become a target and possibly a victim of violence - on previous trips, team members have witnessed scuffles among the Haitians as the team drove away, fighting over the tiniest of gifts
  • it discourages independence - we don’t want to give the message “all good things come from white people” 
  • it is undignified, casting us in the role of rich benefactors and the recipients in the role of charity cases
  • it makes it that much harder for the next team - if there was one child this time, there will be 10 next time and 50 the next, each asking for more and more - the original intent of paying respect to the deceased at the memorial is lost in a frenzy of misguided giving
Perhaps the most wisdom came from the youngest member of our team, 13-year-old, Jaden: “The fact that we are already here [working in Haiti] acknowledges that we care. I don’t think we should stop here [at St. Christof] - it makes us sad and cry. We can’t help people if we are sad and crying.”

by Sonya Yencer

The plan for the St. Christof memorial

Monday, October 27, 2014

HAITI :: Dreaming BIG for LITTLE Wes

Meet 18-month-old Westhalineda
Connections… a vital word in the 11 year history of The Red Thread Promise (TRTP); the same word that will carry us forward into 2015. Our name fulfills a Chinese proverb, one that speaks of a silken red thread of destiny connecting every person who will be part of our lives from birth. We have evidence that the red thread does more than just connect us; it brings us close when the time is right, binding us together, evoking a responsibility to the health and well-being of others to which we respond together. This is again one of those times where we need your help to meet the needs of one child - one precious soul in Haiti.

Through a web of networking among friends and strangers too complex to explain in a few words, we find ourselves looking into the eyes of a spunky Haitian toddler named Westhalineda. Stephanie, from CPR-3 (Coatsville, PA, another amazing group working in Haiti), knocked on TRTP’s doors asking for help for little Wes. Of course, we opened the door and said yes.

Stephanie recalls seeing Wes—our nickname for her—for the first time, lying in a washbasin at the tender age of 3 months. Wes and her young mother, Nadine, were to be Stephanie’s new neighbors in Bercy, Haiti. Over time, an unbreakable bond between Nadine, Wes and Stephanie developed and Stephanie has the privilege of witnessing this young mother’s transformation from hardened unwed teenager to loving doting mother.


Wes and mother, Nadine
Wes is just eighteen months old, has a smile that goes as high as can be on her little cheeks, whose face lights up with laughter when you interact with her. That charming smile belies the fact that she suffers in silence from club foot as well as the developmental delays it is causing according to our partner and club foot specialist, Dr. Bheki Khumalo of West Tennessee Haiti Partnership (Memphis, TN).


Dr. Bheki Khumalo, club foot specialist, conducting an examination of Wes
Born to a teenage mom in rural Haiti outside of Port-au-Prince, Wes appeared doomed to a life of hardship and perhaps little love. Her mother, Nadine—alone in the world since her mother died during childbirth and her father’s subsequent abandonment—was chided by her community for not being able to provide for her daughter. Early on, Stephanie recalls Nadine joking about throwing her daughter away. Life had hardened the young mom, leaving her with a flippant, defensive attitude.

Soon, with Stephanie’s mentoring and persistent modeling of unconditional love, the barriers between mother and daughter broke down. Now, Nadine is her daughter’s fierce protector, head-over-heels in love with her child. This radical transformation over the past year and a half has clearly softened her heart. It is Nadine’s persistence in seeking care for her baby girl that led her to CPR-3 for help; CPR-3 to TRTP to utilize our experience treating children with disabilities; TRTP to Dr. Bheki for diagnosis and a sound treatment plan; and finally TRTP to you to provide financial support for Wes’s surgery and care.

Growing up in Haiti’s animistic culture—meaning that the physical and spiritual world are believed to be interacting—Wes will likely face challenges that others will not. Culturally, a disability is often regarded as punishment or a mark from the spiritual world. This wide-spread belief leads to misunderstanding, isolation, neglect and even abuse of people with disabilities. By treating Wes’s condition, we will not only change her physical life, giving her the opportunity to walk normally, but also give her a solid place in her own society, free of stigma.  


Hugs from Aunt Christella after the consultation
After an initial assessment, Dr. Bheki has determined that surgery (coalition resection and stabilization of the feet) is the best course of action. The prognosis for Wes is good due to her age and the amount of cartilage he has to work with during the procedures. We are greatly thankful for CPR-3 staff, Amanda and Jordan, for taking the responsibility to get Wes to her first of many appointments with Dr. Bheki and for being our eyes and ears on the ground in Haiti.

But changing Wes’s future comes with a price tag. While Dr. Bheki (who has been working extensively in Haiti as a volunteer surgeon over the past 10 years) is donating all of his time and expertise to perform her surgeries and follow-up care, there are still costs that need to be addressed before she is able to have the procedures. Dr. Bheki has done his best to negotiate the lowest price possible for the things we can not get donated in Haiti, including pre-surgical lab work the week prior to surgery, rental of a sterile surgical suite from a reputable hospital, anesthesiologist and anesthesia for the surgery, as well as Wes's follow-up care (medication, bandages, etc). The estimated cost for each foot to be corrected is $2,000, for a total of $4,000. Wes is slated for her first surgery in January 2015. 

The time is now to show Wes that we really do care. Donations in her name can be made to The Red Thread Promise via PayPal, credit card or check (address in upper right). Please write "Wes" in the subject line when possible. If there is no subject line, please email Kathy and let us know how you want your donation specified. With your support, we can change the course of this little girl’s life.

As we dream and pray about Wes’ future, our sense of responsibility grows; our lives and stories become intertwined. With a loving mother, CPR-3 just down the street where American neighbors are willing to advocate for her, and Dr. Bheki working with The Red Thread Promise to provide the surgeries needed to give her a disability-free life, we see a much brighter future for Wes. 

YOU can be an active part of her life. Please give now.


Such a sweet little girl

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CHINA :: Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Charlet!



Surprises are so much fun! 

Little did we know that the silken red thread of destiny would surprise our team by re-connecting us with a beautiful little girl that we had supported during her foster care in China. Little DXX—who isn't so little anymore—is now settled in with a loving family in the United States who affectionately calls her Charlet

What's more? Charlet is sister to Laila, the little one that we recently helped get a micro-wheelchair. Coincidence? We think not! It's just that red thread doing it's business in our lives.

Here's an update on Charlet from her mom, Joslynn. We couldn't be happier that she is with this amazing family and growing up quickly.


Charlet (left) and Laila with their braces
Since bringing her home in December of 2013, we have watched Charlet blossom into a happy-go-lucky, spunky little girl. Charlet has been through many “base-line” tests to mark her medical status and the doctors have been amazed at her health and mobility as a child who suffers from spina bifida. When we tell the doctors of her spine and shunt placement surgery at one month old, they are speechless to explain how she could have survived, as most doctors in the U.S. do these two surgeries separately and at an age much more than one month. There are many things medically that “should” be wrong with Charlet, but they just simply don’t exist. She attends physical therapy once a week to strengthen her body and to help her walk. When we brought her home at 2 years old, she could “cruise” but not walk and she could not stand for long periods. Charlet also recently received braces for her legs to help straighten her gait and keep her joints safe from improper movement. She is now walking independently and her strength and endurance are improving everyday. 
Our greatest efforts for Charlet have been emotional. Charlet was abandoned at one day old, and though she was in a very loving group foster home, she has simply never experienced bonding with a mother and an unchanging family. She quickly accepted Jason as her big Papa Bear. She loves to cuddle with him and be carried around everywhere. You don’t realize when you adopt the things you will have to “teach” this child that simply come as a natural part of development when you are raising your biological children. We had to teach Charlet how to enjoy and not fear play, especially outdoors. Grass and swings were things of great torment in her early months, but it is such a sweet sound to hear her adorable belly laugh now as she swings. When indoors, and if left to her own devices, for many months she would simply sit and stare at us as we moved around a room, with no idea how to “play” by herself. She required our engagement, and even then, she often didn’t know how to interact. Charlet actually really enjoys her solitary time now and I love watching her sing and play with her dolls peacefully with no fear or painful stares in my direction.  
Charlet loves her big sister, Laila (3.5), and her really big brother, Steven (14). Laila and Charlet were adopted on the same day and they bonded quickly. They easily fall into their respective big sister/little sister roles. Charlet is a wonderful helper to her immobile big sister, often bringing her toys or helping her get things that are too heavy. Charlet and Laila are the predictably ornery little sisters who love to bug their big brother. But there is nothing more beautiful than seeing all three of my children cuddling on the couch or playing together on the floor. Charlet’s addition to our family has been an amazing blessing. Her early transition has been quite difficult for our whole family, but she is finally settling in, trusting the family she has been given, and knowing that we are hers forever!
Charlet (left) and Laila

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: Our US program featured in International Innovations Healthcare magazine

Meet Andrew, a young rider from McKenna Farms
Andrew giving his horse a hug after riding

by Glenna Fisher, Jacob's Fund Director

The Red Thread Promise is a volunteer organization. No fancy high-rise offices. No big salaries. No big-budget fundraising. 

We’re in this for the kids. 
Always. Has. Been. Always. Will. Be.

But we’re human. We like it when people say they like our work. 

So imagine our delight when we opened an email from Global Giving (a crowd-funding site that helps us raise programming funds), and read this:
We have an ongoing relationship with a magazine called International Innovations Healthcare… they publish an article featuring a different Global Giving project every issue. For their next issue, they'd like to feature The Red Thread Promise's project "Give Equine Therapy to Children With Disabilities," which we think is great! 
We’ve been bursting to share the news, and now that the article is published, we can! We hope you’ll like this fact-filled, science-based feature on Jacob’s Fund’s support for hippotherapy and the kids for whom it’s prescribed. Click on the image below to enlarge and read the entire article. Or you can view the original at International Innovation Healthcare


Jacob's Fund's article in International Innovations 
Healthcare magazine (click on image to enlarge) 
Around the indoor arena