Feeding Clinic at Jennifer’s
By Saundie Weiss
This morning we went back to Bill and Jennifer’s to help her with the weekly feeding clinic. Every Wednesday, she offers a clinic for families who need food to feed their families. An American woman who lives here, Amber, and a pastor in Pignon help Jennifer. They know these families and their situations so they can easily understand each of their needs.
Today, we helped hand out formula for the babies; next week will be food for malnourished children. Jennifer weighs the babies each time. She needs to see that the babies are gaining weight each week. She explained to us that most of the babies are brought to the clinic because they do not have a mother anymore. All the cases have a reason that the baby cannot get formula from the mother. We saw a lot of fathers come with their babies because the mother has passed away. We also saw a young girl bring twin baby boys. The mother has died so the family takes care of them now. Most of the babies we saw were sick and feverish. Jennifer provides formula for them for two weeks and asks them to come back in two weeks.
From the minute we drove onto the compound and saw the families waiting, I knew my heart would hurt. I wanted to know the ages of these babies and the stories of their families. When we walked up to the clinic to wait with the families, a young baby boy was fussing in his father’s arms. The father did not look very well; he was frail, tired. I asked him if I could hold his baby. I took the fussing, hot, wet baby boy. After a while, he settled down and slept quietly. If I was able to give anything, it was a rest for the father from holding a tired and sick baby.
At least we had the shade from the mango trees to wait under. The compound is peaceful, only the cries of babies or sounds of play from the children breaks the silence. This clinic is a respite for the single parents. After a while, the father had his turn in line and took his sleeping baby from me. Mackenzie weighed him. Jennifer said the baby is doing well. She also explained that they had seen the mother a few weeks ago when they had first come to the clinic. The mother had died from HIV. Jennifer sounded concerned about the father’s health too, but he was very caring for his son. He loves him. He is here for him. He was so grateful for the formula and the care at the clinic, even so grateful to me for holding his boy. I watched him walk down the road and out the gate, praying he’d be back in two weeks with his boy, praying he’d be healthier and stronger, praying someone would come with him to encourage him and help him with his son.
The clinic is not complicated. The families come with needs and Jennifer helps where she can. The pain hurts and the hunger stings. Holding sick babies is hard. One little girl was about twice the height of the baby I held but she weighed less and very hot. I wanted to give her a cold cloth for her head and put one on her back. I wanted to give her a popsicle or something for her to suck on so her can forget about her fever. But there is no ice here. Her mother or aunt will give her formula and love to make her feel better.
We heard other stories about the babies that come. I realize that here in Haiti, some of these things are just what they are and they cannot be helped. You don’t have what you cannot get and cannot help what you do not know. The hospital here in Pignon is one of those things. Jennifer was trying to help a family a couple weeks with their 19-year-old son. He came to the clinic with severe malnutrition. He had probably been malnourished for many, many years. He was less than five feet tall and weighed about 50 pounds. Although he was not showing any sort of symptoms—no fever, diareha, vomiting, he needed testing so they took him to the hospital. After three days, he had severe diareha so they diagnosed him with cholera. He was there one day before he died. Jennifer thinks he contracted the disease while he was in the hospital. His family was devastated; his mother was weeping, Jennifer said. They were left with his body to transport back to their home, which was many miles away. Some of these families walk over 7 miles to come to the clinic.
Another little girl graduated from the clinic! This is good news. This means that they are healthy enough and their family can take care of them without assistance. She was probably almost two and starting to walk. We watched her walk and noticed her feet turned out. Jennifer found a new pair of shoes to help keep her ankles straight. She seemed to walk better in them already after she had them on. They may be back in a few weeks so Jennifer can check her progress. Her father was very happy!
One of the last ladies at the clinic was probably the most joyful woman there. Jennifer told us her beautiful story. She wanted a baby very badly but was not able to get pregnant. There was a teenage girl who gave birth at the hospital a couple months ago, but the father told her she could not keep the baby so the hospital gave it to this woman who was there. When she got the baby, he was very sick and could not keep the regular formula down. Jennifer has been supplying her with soy formula and cereal. He is growing really well and looked very healthy. She is such a sweet mother. That boy will be loved.
Sometimes, Bill and Jennifer take in children with very severe cases. I wonder which of these children will end up at their orphanage. Will there be women who will help take in the children who need a family? What will happen to the little baby boy I held? Is he infected with HIV? Jennifer doesn’t think so since he is growing well, but time will tell. What else will it tell? Will his father see him walk? Go to school? Get married? These are my thoughts. No one can guarantee these things and it makes me mad. It makes my heart ache. I had to walk out of the clinic several times until the tears drained from my eyes, but as I looked around the peaceful compound, I realized that what I was seeing was just simply a fact. Not much can be done. Disease breaks families and destroys hope. I wonder how much this man misses his wife. Does his heart hurt for the loss?
Today was a heavy day. It was also a beautiful day because I saw smiles and some hope in people’s eyes too. Thank you, Lord, for hands like Jennifer and Amber and the pastor who take care of your little children.