Mother’s Day brings a feeling of overwhelming gratitude for the many mothers in my life – the mother that raised me, the mother that raised my fabulous husband, the mother of my 3 children created thru egg donation and the Korean and Chinese mothers that gave birth to my daughters and then made the difficult decision to place them for adoption. I have always imagined what their life would have been if, instead of completing reams of paperwork and writing checks for large sums of money, we had worked to provide for their original families so that they would have been able to be raised in their country of origin. That venture is much more difficult and involves a more long-term world view than a short-term individualistic approach. But that is exactly what the founders of Second Mile Haiti are trying to achieve. We were fortunate to spend a few hours touring their expanding facility on our last day in Haiti.
The founders of Second Mile Haiti are Jenn Schenk and Amy Syres, two young women who had a vision to create a sustainable option for families who were previously relinquishing their malnourished children to care centers, where the children were either placed for international adoption or reunified back into their impoverished families after their malnutrition was corrected. ” It didn’t seem right that the only available way to help these families was to take their kids from them. We really had to ask ourselves if there wasn’t some sort of alternative” says Amy, regarding the experiences that led the co-founders to start Second Mile Haiti.
The alternative that they have created is flourishing. Severly malnourished children are referred to their program from nearby hospitals. Each child is admitted with a caregiver, usually their mother, and spends 4-6 weeks in the program slowly being nourished back to health. Caregivers are taught what causes malnutrition and how it can be prevented. They are part of the team that works to improve their child’s malnutrition. Second Mile also offers daily business, literacy and home gardening classes so that the caregivers can participate in sustainable small business projects. At the end of each caregivers stay, she is given instructions and goals for her child in follow-up. Providing these goals are met, which they almost always are, the caregiver is given the goods she will need to begin a small business that will continue to provide for her family, preventing the recurrence of malnutrition in addition to empowering her to become a leader in her community and share her knowledge with others.
Currently, the facility has room for 12 moms and children. Construction of a second building to house another 12 caregivers and their children was in full swing on the day of our visit. An additional 30-40 Haitians were employed in the building project. The gardener proudly showed off the 4 acres of produce that is used to feed the caregivers, children and staff. A large mango tree in the middle of the property supplies the mango jam that flavors the newly made goat yogurt. These are the ingredients that help to break the cycle of poverty and undernutrition. The benefits extend beyond the walls of the compound – each person that Second Mile touches with their program, whether it be a caregiver or employee, amplifies the effect in the community with information and salaries.
Mother’s Day is everyday for these fortunate women, as they are able to continue to care for their children and provide them with adequate nutrition. The cost of this program is far less than housing a “relinquished child” and then trying to reintegrate them back into Haitian society. A United Nations Grant is funding the expansion project and will hopefully replicate this program in other parts of the developing world.