Most stories about Haiti begin with one or more of the following facts.

1. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

2. The average Haitian lives on less than $2 a day.

3. It is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.

4. Unemployment is 40-60%.

While these statements are true, they do little to portray the Haiti that we see when we visit with the recipients of our microfinance loans. These women are resourceful, hard working and creative despite their low literacy level and lack of formal business training. They are most appreciative of the continued existance of the program so that they can continue to benefit and so can their friends and relatives. In order for the program to offer more microloans, we need to keep asking for donations. Facts do not generate donations; personal stories do. In the beginning, I had hesitated to share individual pictures and stories  as I did not want to invade the privacy of our Haitian participants. But I have realized that stories are what motivate others to give and I believe that the invasion of privacy is outweighed by the possibility to help more women. Work in the developing world is never black or white – only shades of grey.

Our next trip is planned for November 7-15. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I will share stories of individual women who have been successful in their small business. Give to the Max Day (our biggest fundraiser) occurs while we are in Haiti. I am hoping their stories inspire you to give.



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

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.

Helping Haiti Work book list

Following are book selections that provide a glimpse into life for the average Haitian woman.

  1. “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Paul Farmer  At the center of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: To diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.
  2. “A Wedding in Haiti” by Julia Alvarez  In a story that travels beyond borders and between families, acclaimed Dominican novelist and poet Julia Alvarez reflects on the joys and burdens of love for her parents, for her husband, and for a young Haitian boy known as Piti. In this intimate true account of a promise kept, Alvarez takes us on a journey into experiences that challenge our way of thinking about history and how it can be reimagined when people from two countries traditional enemies and strangers become friends.
  3. “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabele Allende  Take the rich historical settings of Haiti and New Orleans. Toss in voodoo ceremonies, zombies, bloody slave uprising s, forbidden loves, pirates, spies, fortune-tellers, hurricanes, epidemics, and a pinch of scandal. Place all of this is Isabel Allende’s gifted hands, and what’s not to love?
  4. “Farewell, Fred Voodoo” by Amy Wilentz  Haiti emerged from the dust of the 2010 earthquake like a powerful spirit, and this stunning book describes the country’s day-to-day struggle and its relationship to outsiders who come to help out. There are human-rights reporters gone awry, movie stars turned aid workers, priests and musicians running for president, doctors turned diplomats. A former U.S. president works as a house builder and voodoo priests try to control elections.
  5. “The Big Truck That Went By” by Jonathan Katz  More than half of American adults gave money for Haiti, part of a monumental response totaling $16.3 billion in pledges. But three years later the relief effort has foundered. It’s most basic promises—to build safer housing for the homeless, alleviate severe poverty, and strengthen Haiti to face future disasters—remain unfulfilled.
    “The Big Truck That Went By” presents a sharp critique of international aid that defies today’s conventional wisdom; that the way wealthy countries give aid makes poor countries seem irredeemably hopeless, while trapping millions in cycles of privation and catastrophe. Katz follows the money to uncover startling truths about how good intentions go wrong, and what can be done to make aid “smarter.”