Feeding the Children

Written June 15, 2015 by Jennifer Gallardo, CPM, LDM and President MamaBaby Haiti

So, I finally have a little internet to post the story of feeding the children in Shada.  It was a wonderful, wild, and crazy day. We had 290 very hungry children show up to be fed. As you probably know, MamaBaby Haiti’s mission is to lower the maternal and neonatal mortality rate and provide a safe place for Haitian women to receive compassionate and respectful FREE prenatal, birth, and postpartum care at the hands of skilled Haitian midwives. However, we are not just busy with births! We are busy training and supporting traditional midwives in the area, training nurses from local hospitals on how to attend births gently within the midwifery model of care, serving as a midwifery training site for Midwives for Haiti, providing birth control and cervical cancer screening, and seeing how we can improve the life of the people in Northern Haiti. We love volunteers, whether you are an experienced midwife, a midwifery student, or a volunteer with no medical background who wants to jump in and help us with service projects. 

The feeding the children service project was born because I am networking with a well known midwife, Madame Bwa, in the poorest part of Northern Haiti, the slums of Shada, in the city of Cap Haitian. When I asked her how I could help her in her midwifery work, she just wanted me to feed the children in her area. This was my trial run, and we will be doing this project more often with our community volunteer groups (contact us at volunteer@mamababyhaiti.org if you want to join us!). 

Saturday I went to the market with Claudin, the house manager of MamaBaby Haiti, to buy the food. So colorful, loud, and busy! A sea of people and wheelbarrows pushing through the narrow walkway. We rented a wheelbarrow and started with two 25 lb bags of rice, two gallons of oil, then 36 cups of beans, and 60 chicken legs, 4 large cans of tomato paste, bags of carrots, greens, onions, garlic, parsley, and a whole bunch of green vegetables that I don’t know the name of. We took the food for safekeeping to Madame Bwa’s home in Shada, and gave her more money to purchase some food items she felt we were missing. The children greeted us excitedly as we unloaded the tap tap into a wheelbarrow. I watched children fly kites they had made out of sticks and plastic along the river bank of their home. 

Sunday morning I showed up at Madame Bwa’s home to help cook and serve. Madame Bwa had enormous pans, set on huge charcoal fires with a rice and bean mixture, a vegetable soup, and fried chicken legs. We began to set up the eating area, a cement area with cinderblock walls that are chest high, a place where she teaches her classes to the community. We laid blankets on the floor for the children to sit on. 

They began to gather, chattering and playful like puppies. I started taking pictures and they would yell, “Blan, Blan!” as they wanted me to take pictures of them making funny faces, or just posing. A pregnant momma grabbed me by the arm and took me outside of the walls to take a picture of her. Soon I was the village photographer, with promises to print and send the pictures with the next volunteer. People gave me their numbers so I could call them when their picture was brought to Haiti. I took pictures of the children patiently waiting on the blankets. I counted 75 children and thought, “I was told 250! We will have so much food!”. But this was just the beginning.

Once the food was brought out and placed on the cement ground, children came from everywhere. Soon we had a hungry mob of children, and I couldn’t even count how many there were. We kept making plates and handing them out as quickly as they were made. Things got a little crazy as everyone was very loud, yelling and pushing to get some food. It was not at all how I had imagined it would be (rows of children sitting quietly and stuffing their faces). Children would grab my arms (I had 15 clinging to me to the point I couldn’t even walk or move to serve them) and beg to be next. I saw their desperation as the first three huge pans of rice and beans were diminishing. Their panic that they might not get fed. They pushed harder to where I got knocked over a couple times. I kept looking them in the eyes and smiling and telling them they would get fed. To be patient. It took us 90 minutes to empty out the pots we had. 

The crowd dissipated, but there were 40 children left. We had run out of the 250 plates I had brought. My heart sunk, as I saw these children that had not been fed. They looked so sad. I went to Madame Bwa and said, I will go buy more rice, we have to feed them. She told me not to worry, that she had an extra big pan of rice and beans in her kitchen she had made. She told the children to go home and come back with a bowl. They disappeared quickly and then returned with their metal bowls, and they cheered and danced, laughing and clanging their bowls in the air, making music. They were joyous. Madame Bwa brought out the big bowl, and the 40 children pushed and shoved again, trying to make their way to the front. I tried putting them in an orderly line, I tried making them sit. Nothing worked as they were desperate to be fed. They would get their food and run out with it to eat alone. 

Finally, we were at the end. There was no more food. “FinI” Madame Bwa announced. There were about 10 children left who had not been fed. I asked Madame Bwa what we could do? My heart felt broken for them. She brought them around her and told them she would make more food next time. Soon they were playing with my iPhone and asking me to take videos of them playing music and drums on their empty bowls. They would laugh as they watched the videos. I kept distracting them with the photo’s and videos. I kept trying to think of what I could do to feed the last 10 children, but soon more children joined us for the photo’s and I couldn’t even remember which had been fed and which hadn’t. 

I brainstormed with Madame Bwa about how to do it better next time. More food. How to control the crowd. Then we started to leave. One little boy burst into tears about not eating, and his momma came and picked him up. My translator had arrived to help me get back to MamaBaby Haiti, and he gave the boy 75 goods to go buy food. I wanted to find the other nine children to give them money, but they had disappeared. 

I felt mixed feelings. Very happy for the children we had fed. Determined to do this again but better next time. Heartbroken for the nine who went away empty handed. I meet on Wednesday with the Plumpy Peanut non-profit group, that has medical food for kids and pregnant women and want to partner with MamaBaby Haiti. Wednesday afternoon I will see if I can take some Plumpy Peanut to Shada and find some of the children who’s pictures are haunting me. Overall, this was a wonderful service project, and we would love your help to repeat it! I truly think that for many of these children this was the first time in a long time they had a full tummy.