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!


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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: New perspectives

Laura meeting Spirit
It is always a joy to bring new people along on our trips as they offer us fresh perspectives on both our work and our partners. They take in everything for the first time, and their impressions are often poignant. Today we share those impressions with you, first from Laura, a supporter and horse-lover from Ohio. Then, we'll hear from our President, Kathy, as she shares the changes she's observed over the years.

Laura Ramsey :: I am a full-time in-home clinical social worker for children and families. I have had the privilege of working in many settings from hospice to foster care during my career. Never in my professional life have I seen anything quite like McKenna Farms; I was truly in awe as I took it all in. 

We arrived to a see white picket-fenced farm, the parking lot full of cars, the entire area buzzing with children and therapists. McKenna Farms has an ease and a feeling of home coupled with the murmur of evidence-based therapy and change. 

McKenna Farms seamlessly joins physical therapy, occupational therapy, therapeutic riding, and hippotherapy, all in one place. The staff, licensed professionals, talented horse handlers, and dedicated volunteers work together seamlessly to create an environment in which therapy is delivered to 350 kids per week. 
At McKenna Farms, I see and hear passion everywhere. I see it in the faces of both clients and parents. I hear it in the voices of those who talk about their experience and those who are delivering therapy. 
Jessie, founder and director, has dedicated her professional career to creating a unique farm that has managed to overcome the financial barriers that stand in the way of those who wish to join multi-disciplines together. Jessie’s passion spills over when she speaks of the future, which includes a pool where water therapy can be delivered on site. 

My visit to McKenna farms made me clearly understand why The Red Thread Promise has chosen to support the children there. The Farm is forward thinking and capitalizes on the talents of many to impact the lives of children at a crucial moment in time. McKenna Farms is truly a one-of-a-kind agency that I look forward to returning to in the future.

Kathy enjoying one of the therapy horses

Kathy Korge Albergate :: Our September, 2014 visit to McKenna Farms was my first in three years and it’s obvious that I’d been away too long. Way too long. So much has happened in that time. Laura, a friend of The Red Thread Promise, and Sonya, Vice-President of The Red Thread Promise, joined me on this trip.

Though Sonya has made the trip several times in those three years, and her last visit was less than four months ago, she was astounded to see the changes made over the summer.  

The outdoor riding arena has been rotated 90 degrees and moved closer to the fence bordering the pony corral. The remaining space where the area used to be has been readied for a future pool in which the children will take water therapy.

The entrance to the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail is now a pleasantly curved trail. The stations have been revitalized and a new one completed. In some areas the woods have been cleared and the trail extended toward the creek on the property.  

Only passion for these kids and their ability to grow and become more independent could fuel the constant improvements Jessie and her team continue to make at McKenna Farms. And only her complete professionalism and eagerness to employ every therapy avenue that will help these children could bring those improvements to fruition.

As a Jacob’s Fund partner, McKenna Farms embodies the spirit of The Red Thread Promise, enabling children to live the richest, fullest, most independent lives possible.

Vice President, Sonya Yencer

Saturday, September 6, 2014

HAITI :: Hunger - the single gravest threat for St. Vincent's

In 2014, no one should go hungry. Especially kids.

One of our best friends grew up in a poor family in the Appalachian Mountains. He is able to laugh now as he recalls his mom cooking white beans on Monday, pinto beans on Tuesday, and on Wednesday combining the two for their evening meal. Cereal at breakfast and bologna sandwiches for lunch rounded out their days.

The majority of Americans haven’t known that level of poverty. But for the children at St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Haiti, three meals a day of any kind is a luxury that is out of reach.

Beans are a staple at St. Vincent’s just as it was for our friend’s family. Rice stretches the protein to fill the children’s stomachs. Yet today, this simple meal is served “infrequently,” and when it is available, Father Sadoni tells us there just isn’t enough. In desperation, he has resorted to sending every child who has a family back home because he is unable to feed them regularly. Only the orphans remain.

Living with hunger.

It’s difficult to fall asleep when hunger haunts your mind and gnaws at your stomach. Until, of course, your body is weakened from lack of food over a long period of time. Hunger is painful; malnutrition causes our eyes to fail, our skin to develop lesions, our muscles to weaken and shrink, our bones to stop growing, our immune system to fail.

Lack of adequate food destroys the cognitive processes, resulting in reduced intelligence and learning, stunting not only the body but the mind of a child.*

Meeting their needs TOGETHER. 

Love and care: Fr. Sadoni and the staff at St. Vincent’s provide this in abundance on a daily basis. Their very presence in these children’s lives provides emotional nourishment and assuages the thirst for meaningful human contact.

We can show this same love and care to St. Vincent’s children by providing the basics—food and water—during this vulnerable time in their lives. Most of us reading this post have an adequate supply of both. Even our Appalachian friend’s mother was able to fill these needs for her sons. Our poverty is richness when compared to the plight of these children.

Join us in giving the life-sustaining gift of food. With your help, The Red Thread Promise is committing to supplying three months of food for the kids at St. Vincent’s. $2.25 feeds each child for a full day. That’s $6,090 per month, $18,270 total. This is a real, attainable goal. The need is urgent. Children are going hungry every day. These kids’ deprivation compels us to have funds available for the first month’s food in the next ten days -- by September 16.   

We can do it with your help.

Genesis 12:2 tells us: 
“I will bless you . . . 
and you will be a blessing to others.” 

YOU are that blessing for these children, and so are your family, friends, civic groups and churches. It takes a village.... Please share the story of St. Vincent’s kids and their current dire need in your circles. Let’s reach our goal quickly. 

Donations can be made via PayPal through our website or via check. 

Checks may be sent to:
The Red Thread Promise
249 N Belfield Ave
Havertown, PA 19083
Attn: Kathy Korge Albergate