Afternoon meal…rice and beans…mostly rice with a few beans…in fact, so few that you could easily count them. The stuff doesn’t look very appetizing when served out of a five gallon paint bucket into a frisbee for a plate and eaten with dirty hands. At least it didn’t look very appetizing to my co-leader, Angela Quinn, and me as we observed the afternoon meal at the orphanage that January day. On the other hand, hungry children were grabbing it and diving under the nearest table to eat it before someone else took it away from them so maybe it tasted better than it looked.
Titite, the handsome eight year old who had chosen me on the way to church three days earlier, was scraping the last few morsels out of the bucket in his hands and licking the residue off his fingers. I was looking under the tables to see who these smaller kids were when I heard soft sobbing off to my right. Turning to see the source of the sobs, my eyes rested on a small form laying on his chest on the concrete floor. His little back rose and fell with the sobs.
First kneeling to check him out and then lifting his limp, light as a feather frame off that floor my mind was racing with fear for this precious child. As I laid his head on my shoulder and hustled downstairs to the clinic where the doctors were treating patients, his sobs turned to whimpers and then to quiet tears. Ki Jan ou rele? Ki Jan ou rele? I asked him, trying my best to say the Creole for what’s your name or what are you called in such a way that he could understand me. No response. I found an interpreter. Please ask him his name…same question, better pronounced…still no response.
Taking him back to the pharmacy where there was room to sit on the floor, I opened a protein bar and begin to feed him while he sat on my lap. An angel, disguised as a physician’s assistant named Christine, brought me a cup to give him some water and suggested that I just feed him and give him water for a while. Someone sent for one of the children who would know his name and I learned that it was Toto…still no smile and still no answer when I called him by name but he was digging into that protein bar.
After about thirty minutes, duty was calling me to another part of the orphanage so I took him into the triage area and sat him in a wheelchair and asked another angel, disguised as a family physician named Dr. Cammy, to check in on him and make sure that he was going to be okay. A few hours later when I returned to the clinic I asked about Toto and was told that after three more protein bars and a dose of Pedialite he had skipped off with a big smile on his face. When I asked Dr. Cammy what her diagnosis was, she looked at me and simply said “starvation”.
Starvation… a simple word and a simple diagnosis with a world of meaning and no simple solution. That night, during our team highlight reel of the day, our medical team kept coming back to two key facts that the day’s orphan examinations had revealed to them: -many of the children had lost weight over the last year and -most of the children had a Body Mass Index that would classify them as malnourished.
Toto was the face of the problem for that moment but the medical professionals had heard and seen the hunger all day as they had moved from treating people from the community to doing annual physical exams of the orphans.
The team was heartbroken but adamant, “we need to do something and we need to do it now”. I promised that we would not leave to go home until we understood the situation and had some idea how to improve it. After a long talk with one of ESMI’s key leaders, Pastor Louis St. Germaine, I came to understand that funding from one of their key sources had been reduced and this orphanage was struggling to cover its costs. The next morning a detailed email on the situation was in front of Bless Back founder George Collins. George turned to Bless Back Haiti Country Director, Melissa Roper, and empowered her to take action to do whatever was required to help meet the need there. After a phone call between Angela, Melissa and me on that Thursday morning, Melissa agreed to step up the launch of Bless Back’s planned Sponsorship Program to be effective immediately.
What happened next is nothing short of amazing. Within 7 days of that moment, new funds had been transferred to an account for the orphanage to spend on immediate food enhancement. Chicken, fish, goat, eggs, bread and beans had all been purchased and added to the diet plan for the children. Over 100 sponsorships had been committed to and funded for the first month. Plans were in place to provide funding to support a new administrator/leader for the orphanage, Pastor Guercy Meme, who has since made great strides in organizing and managing the operations there. Our God made it very evident to us that He “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and nothing is too hard for Him.
Diagnosis: Starvation…Prescription: God working through broken people…Glory to God!
By: Roger Braswell