I was introduced to Jenn Schenk and Amy Syres a year ago when a friend led me on a tour of Haitian NGOs that are working to help Haitians help themselves. This can often be the more difficult way of helping and requires the ability to put self aside and allow the Haitians to support each other. I was given a tour of the building site of Second Mile Haiti and wrote a blog post shortly after I returned. Briefly, Jenn and Amy have turned their original mission of working in orphanages to now preventing children from becoming orphans when they are relinquished by their families due to malnutrition/illness. The majority of Haitian orphans are not orphans in the sense that they have lost both parents but rather that their caregivers feel that they can no longer care for them due to severe malnutrition. These children and their caregivers are housed during the week while they are slowly re-nourished and the caregivers are empowered by learning about nutrition, agriculture and business opportunities that will support their families. Their program has been very successful with most children leaving after 2-4 weeks with their caregiver and few recurrences of malnutrition. As the program has expanded, they have continued to employ Haitians as nurses, farm workers and carpenters. I have never been more enthusiastic about any other Haitian program – and I have seen many over the past 10 years.
And that is why the recent turn of events has me both sad and angry. Because it is not a hurricane, an earthquake, a flood or any other event of Nature that has otherwise profoundly affected this island nation. This tsunami came from the US. Amy and Jenn made the decision to marry this summer in a beautiful ceremony beneath the redwoods of California. This commitment to each other and their life’s work did not sit well with many of their donors – evangelical, conservative Christian congregations. They immediately withdrew their support, both financial and emotional. Haitians are more religious than most Americans but their opinion of Amy and Jenn and the work they are doing did not change. They were happy to welcome them back from their honeymoon as they continued to support Haitian children and families, growing vegetables to send home with the children on weekends and purchasing formula and medicines from local stores.
Throughout the fall, these women have worked to build back their base of donors. But due to attention shifting away during the election season and then the attention directed towards hurricane victims, their source of funds to keep the doors open is dwindling and they are in danger of shutting down by early 2017. I am asking for a call to action for anyone who thinks that individuals can do great work no matter their sexual orientation. We need to provide the support these women need to keep their doors open, educate even more Haitian families about nutrition and keep children out of orphanages. This is a link to their webpage where donations can be made. Please share this with other like-minded individuals and prove to the Haitian community that we care more about the needs of Haiti than we do about the sexual orientation of the aid workers.