Menstrual pads are on their way to Haiti!

Future Haitian taxi
Future Haitian taxi

photo (8) IMG_4314The 4 sewing machines and 50 kits of reusable menstrual pads were packed in the trucks and headed down to Miami. From there, the trucks will be loaded onto a barge and make the 3 day journey to Cap Haitian, Haiti. The group of 3 Canadian students will start working with 4 Haitian women next week to resource the materials needed for constructing the pads in Haiti.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Unknown Moms

by Leslee Jaeger
Open Leslee’s blog


There are 2 mothers in this world who will go unrecognized on Sunday. One lives in Korea and one in China. They gave birth to my 13 and 15 year old daughters and have not seen them since days after their birth. Their stories are presumably very different. In Korea, most children that are placed for adoption are born to single mothers. Public acceptance of unwed mothers is low and the family often hides the pregnant woman from the outside world. Adoption paperwork is completed  in the first few days after birth, as was the case with our daughter. If the woman later marries, she often does not inform her husband of the first child and her family never talks about the child.  This is only one of the many reasons that searching for birth parents can be frustrating.

The reasons that children in China are placed for adoption has changed over the last few years with the relaxing of the one child policy and the increase in economic prosperity of the people.  When our daughter was born in 2000, the one child policy allowed for a second child if the first child was a girl. We do not know her exact circumstances, but she was probably the second daughter of a rural family who needed a son to continue to farm the land.  Her mother would not have had much input into her abandonment (placing children for adoption in China is illegal) as this is often the decision of the husband and mother-in-law.

I am not judging either of these women. If in the same circumstances, I can’t say that I would have made a different decision. I would love to reach out to each of them and communicate how much their daughters are loved and flourishing in their current environments. However, this  needs to be a personal decision by each of my daughters. So much of their early story was out of their control that this is one important choice that they can control. They are aware of my feelings about openness in adoption, but have heard enough stories about family searches that have not ended well, that they have put any ideas about searching into the future.

Currently, open adoption is very common in the United States and preferred by both adoptive parents and birth parents. International adoption is traditionally closed, with adoptive parents receiving very little information about the circumstances of the birth family. This is slowly starting to change as the world is getting smaller. More adoptive families are traveling to their child’s country of origin and meeting extended family members. Social service agencies are facilitating communication between families after the adoption is completed. I can only see this as a positive as it helps a child have a history of less “unknowns” regarding the circumstances of their early years.

As much as I love my daughters and cannot imagine life without them in our crazy family, I still sometimes wish that they could have grown up within their birth countries.  They will both be strong woman and they may have been able to change some of the strong social mores in Korea and China that led to their adoption stories. Individualism is a strong force in America, unlike Asia where more of the focus is on the family. My daughters were sacrificed for the overall betterment of their birth family. They were received in American to benefit an individuals desire.

In my work in the developing world, I have seen some families make even harder decisions.  When there is not enough food for everyone, which child will need to go hungry?  When there is only limited funds for school, which children will benefit from an education?  If a child is sick, does it warrent the expense of a medical visit? These are choices most of us cannot imagine making once, let daily or weekly. These are the moms that most deserve our thoughts on Sunday if we have a quiet moment. On Sunday,  I will be thinking of the stories I have heard both in Africa and Haiti and giving thanks to a special mom in Korea and China.

mom in field

New Loans

We were fortunate to receive our non-profit status only 2 days before Give to the Max Day in Minnesota. Due to the generosity of our donars and a $4000 match, we raised almost $11,000.  20 new loans were awarded in Limbe and 10 loans in Ranquitte. This brings our total to 87 loans in Limbe and 24 loans in Ranquitte. The first 4 groups in Limbe have paid back their original loans (in addition to interest) and have been granted a second loan amount for $225.

20 new loans in Limbe
20 new loans in Limbe
10 new loans in Ranquitte
10 new loans in Ranquitte

I had a chance to visit with some of the previous loan recipients while I was in Haiti in November. They were most excited by the fact that our program had continued to expand and was still operating.  Apparently, other organizations have proposed similiar microfinancing ideas but failed to follow thru with funds or ran out of funding soon after granting the first loans. They were also appreciative that Helping Haiti Work does not dictate what types of businesses they operate. Often what they resell in the market changes depending on what the needs of the community dictate. Their last request of me – “We would like more loans for our friends and to be able to qualify for bigger loans for ourselves when we have proven that we are a good risk”.  Our job at Helping Haiti Work is to be able to grant those requests thru more fundraising.


Donations – How Best to Give

DSC03894When arriving in Haiti for our medical mission trips, this pictures depicts what greets us in the operating room on the first day.  We spend the day sorting, organizing and trying to throw away unneeded supplies. The first two tasks are much easier than the last.  Understand that there is no garbage truck, landfill or recycling options.   Whatever we decide is trash gets carried away and burned, whether it be metal, plastic or paper.  Haitians are reluctant to throw away any item that may come in useful in the future – from my experience they don’t throw away anything!  This trip we had extra time to organize due to heavy rain on the first day.  We found suture that had expired in 1995, staple guns that were covered in dust, bottles of unknown medicines, and many items that were so old we had forgotten their original use. Unfortunately, there are larger items that are not so easy to dispose of; an ultrasound machine, rusty hospital beds, an infant warmer that doesn’t warm.

Donations from America can be both a blessing and a curse.  Suture is expensive and needed for surgery.  However, suture that is so tiny that it can only be used with a microscope is only going to sit on a shelf and take up space.  An ultrasound machine that is being replaced because it doesn’t work properly will not work any better in a country with high humidity, no temperature controlled room and no biomed department to troubleshoot problems. Donations of personal leftover meds, although well-intentioned, do not contribute to a stocked pharmacy.  Fortunately, there is a donation that can be used where it is needed most, has a long shelf life and never expires:  MONEY.  This may seem impersonal and not as “giving of self”, but is much more appreciated by organizations that are working abroad.  They have supply chains and can buy in bulk the products they need at a cheaper cost than an individual in the States.  Money can be used to subsidize the payroll in times of decreased cash flow. In order to stay in business, they generator needs a steady supply of fuel to power the lights and electricity.

As you are looking at your end of year donations, consider a monetary donation the best gift you can give an organization, whether it be a local food shelf or a third world project.  This contribution will go much farther to improve the bottom line and you do not need to leave your home to shop – especially important in Minnesota this week!

Maternity care in Haiti

DSCN0307 For the first time our medical mission team included 2 labor and delivery nurses. We had a few education goals in mind, some of which we achieved and some of which we did not. Most importantly, we established a working relationship with the nurses in maternity, hoping that they will be more receptive to ongoing education in the future. Our main focus was around infant resuscitation after delivery but also included learning about longstanding cultural practices related to childbirth. The nurses encouraged patients to walk and move more in labor, rather than laying in bed. A tradition of soaking in very hot water steeped in herbs in the days and weeks after birth was discouraged due to burns. The nurses were most surprised by the need of the Haitian staff to reuse many of the instruments that we consider disposable. Plastic hooks used for rupture of membranes are soaked in a sterilizing solution and reused until they break. Vacuum instruments used for forcep deliveries are reused until they do not create any further suction. Flies need to be swatted away frequently.

Haiti has no version of health insurance and the hospital must cover its costs in order to continue to function. When patients arrive in maternity they are sent to pharmacy to collect and pay for their needed medical supplies, such as sterile gloves, IV tubing and IV bags and medicines. One patient arrived and was quickly diagnosed with very high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. In the US she would have been put in a quiet room, IV started with Magnesium to prevent seizures and labor induction. In Haiti, she was sent across the busy courtyard to collect these supplies and then spent her time in a noisy and hot maternity area with other patient’s families constantly coming and going, a woman in the bed nearby moaning during labor and American nurses asking many questions of the Haitian nursing staff. All of this would induce a seizure in most of us, even without pre-eclampsia!

Following the first delivery that was witnessed by our nurses, the baby was soon brought out into the courtyard by a relative to show to other family members, in addition to whoever else was around. The American nurses expressed concern that there was no identification on the baby to link the infant with the correct mother. They received a confused look from the translator and a query as to why this was done in the US. After the explanation regarding infant abduction, the translator was even more confused. “We already have too many mouths to feed and not enough food in this country, why would someone want one more?” Too bad we can’t use all the millions of dollars that we spend on infant security systems in the US to provide food and birth control to a nearby nation.

Now that we have a better idea about what the maternity department can actually use, we are hard at work collecting supplies and donations to be sent with another medical team traveling in January. Although some supplies such as IV solution will always need to be bought, we hope to increase donations so that other supplies can be provided free of charge.
DSCN0308 (1)

Thanks and Giving Haitian style

A recent conversation with another of the providers during our medical mission trip made me ponder why Americans are motivated to help those who live in third world countries and what the citizens of those countries owe back to the volunteers. One of the previous volunteers, who has also been to South America on medical trips, voiced his opinion that Haiti should not be your first experience in third world volunteer missions as the Haitians are not appreciative of your efforts. His work in South America was met with effusive praise, invites to private homes and small gifts. Patients in Haiti seem appreciative for what we can do, waiting for hours for our services and thanking us briefly after their family member as been provided with a medical service. The hospital staff is welcoming, but reluctant to change enmeshed routines or work longer days when we are there. I have been part of the team that saved the life of a baby or an adult and been met with only a perfunctory thank you. Don’t they know that we are spending part of our vacations, time away from our families and hard earned money to try and improve their lives?

Why do some of us continue to visit each year and now involve ourselves even further in the culture of Haiti by starting a microfinance program? The “pat on the back” from our co-workers when we return each year is short-lived until the next trip. For me, the driving motivator is that I believe basic health care is a fundamental right that should be accessible to all people of this world. There are many capable physicians that can do what I do in this country, but one week of providing surgical services in Haiti cannot be replaced by someone else. If healthcare is a right, then you should also have the means to pay for those services. Building a small business thru microfinance will enable many women to afford to pay for healthcare for their families. Many Haitians are eager to stop the hand-outs that have been a problematic part of their countries relationship with the United States and move forward with improving their daily life thru hard work. Should we expect a thank you when we are able to provide them with this opportunity thru a microfinance loan? I think WE should be thanking these women for allowing us to give them the financial means to accomplish this.

Give to the Max Day Fundraiser

The final total is $11,000!!! This will fund 60 loans over the next year and fulfill many of the promises that we made to Haitian women during our recent trip. We are already planning for next year with a sewing program addition.

A visit to Ranquitte – the long and winding road

While in Haiti last week on a medical mission trip, 2 of our board members took a side trip to Ranquitte for 24 hours to see first hand the initial loan group of 7 women and distribute solar powered cell phone chargers to the second group of 5 women. Father Charles, the priest who has assisted us with finding the local women, meet us at the airport in Cap Haitian and then drove us the 2 hours over 30 miles of rutted, pothole filled roads into the mountains of the central part of the island. We crossed 3 streams by driving thru them and then wound our way up the side of a mountain, descending into the valley between mountains where Ranquitte is situated. We were quite impressed by the cleanliness of the paved main street and even filled garbage receptacles by the side of the road. Father Charles gave us a tour of the school that he has started, currently with an enrollment of 400 students at a cost of $12 per year.


Since Ranquitte has no electricity, all work occurs during daylight hours. The Catholic church service started at 7 am and lasted for 2 hours. Following mass, we met with all of the microfinance women and gave instructions on the new cell phone chargers. It was during this part of our visit that we learned that one of our loan recipients had walked 4 hours from her home in the mountains to be at the 7 am mass and receiver her charger. Most of her walk had to have been in the dark if she arrived in Ranquitte at 7 am.

Another of the original recipients had been widowed and left with 5 children, in addition to another 5 children of her sisters when she also died. She said that the extra money she made with the loan program was helping to provide for one meal a day for her family. This woman traveled that long road to Cap Haitian each week to buy gasoline and then resell in smaller quantities to motorcycle owners in town. All of the women were proud to show us their credit books, with on time payments made each week and the amount to be paid back decreasing. They were eager to pay off their loans so that they could qualify for a second, larger loan and expand their businesses.

A $200 loan to these woman will probably not move them from poverty to a middle class life. However, it will make poverty a little easier when you can count on one meal a day and possibly enrolling your children in the school so that they can have a brighter future.

New loan group in Limbe

Our most recent new recipients numbered 10 woman and they received their loans in early October. All of the women are from Limbe, the larger of our 2 sites. We will visit with them in November, when some of us are in Haiti on a medical mission week, to learn what new businesses they are starting.

Claire of the Sea Light

I recently had the good fortune to hear author Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian living in Miami, who writes both about the history of Haiti and present day circumstances. Her newest book, “Claire of the Sea Light”, has received wonderful reviews and concerns a modern day problem that many Haitian families face. Clare’s mother died in childbirth and she is being raised by her father. He decides to give her to the local seamstress so that Claire can have a better life.

This is the exact scenario that Helping Haiti Work is trying to prevent. By improving the everyday lives of the women in the program, they are better able to meet the needs of their families, both financial and emotional.