When working in a place like Haiti, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the needs. This is especially true when so many of the women we meet share a similar story and a similar large need.
It has been our goal to truly get to know each woman in our program and to glean a little bit of her story - to take the time to understand specific details about her life and her situation. We want to know more about them than, "they are poor". Whether we can help in each situation or not - we truly desire to know about the ladies and their lives and to enter into relationship with them. We believe that love transforms, redeems, and empowers.
Today I want to share Angena's story of strength and perseverance.
Angena is 29 years old and has four children. They are Angelo, 7 years old, Erna, 6 years old, Woodson, almost 3, and Rose Gerlande, 17 months.
We first met Angena when she came to us pregnant in late 2007. At that time our programs were still very young and in development stage. She attended class and was given prenatal vitamins for a couple of months and her baby boy was born healthy at home in early 2008.
Angena had attempted to benefit from our sewing school but unfortunately she was unable to keep up with the requirements. It was very difficult for the sewing school director to make a decision to remove her from that class. After that, the sewing director took a special interest in looking out for Angena and attempting to find ways to support her. Angena continued coming to the Early Childhood development classes with her new son, Woodson.
In our program we cover many topics. Some of the topics we teach about are: parenting, bonding, public health, hygiene, breastfeeding, STDs, birth control, and first aid. Some of the teaching is fairly basic and aimed at changing long-held cultural beliefs, and misconceptions due to rumor and superstition or lack of education. (For instance, most Haitians believe if the mother has a cold, she can pass it to the baby through nursing and she will not nurse her baby while she has a common cold.)
Many (if not most) women do not have any power when it comes to choosing to say no to intercourse. This problem is systemic and endemic and grievous. Because of this lack of power women find themselves pregnant over and over at a young age. Often times by the time the baby is born the father of the baby has moved on to a new relationship - leaving the woman to fend for herself and her baby without help. This story is told thousands of times over and over all across the island.
For this very reason, teaching about birth control is very important. We hope to empower the women by giving them at least a few options to try to reduce unplanned multiple pregnancies. Being forced into sex is incredibly unfair and horrible; becoming pregnant and trying to provide for a baby all alone as a result is far more difficult. In our program we cover the health benefits for spacing children and we offer them a couple of family planning/birth control methods.
Despite our best efforts and Angena's plan to use birthcontrol, she found herself pregnant again just 8 months after Woodson was born. Angena was devastated. She told us that her husband lives and works in Santo Domingo and just comes home occasionally. He sends money from his job when he can. She is left in Port au Prince to handle the children alone. She is left unprotected from the advances of other men. The situation is overwhelming.
At times Angena was very depressed, and understandably so. During those low times we were careful to pray for her even more and to remind her that we care and will continue to help her whenever possible. Angena desperately needed our encouragement and support. We asked her to start coming to prenatal class again, she re-entered the prenatal program. For the next 27 weeks we were able to see her on Thursdays. Each week were able to remind her that she was not alone and that we cared for her. Angena was able to receive prenatal vitamins that allowed her better health throughout the pregnancy.
In the summer of 2009 Angena delivered a healthy baby girl and named her Rose Gerlande. The father of the baby was still out of the country, as he was for the entire pregnancy.
After delivering Rose Gerlande she moved into the Tuesday Early Childhood Development Class. The benefit for her is to meet other Moms and to learn tools and skills to help her bond with and raise her kids. She is supported by people who love her. She is able to have her kids looked at by a missionary nurse when they are sick. This saves her a lot of money that the "village doctor" might charge to guess at what is wrong with her child.
It is easy to fall into thinking, "Why did she get pregnant again? Doesn't she learn?" Some might even think, "Well she got pregnant - it is her fault she is so poor." While a very small portion of her situation *might* be a direct result of her own choices, the fact is MOST of her life circumstances have much more to do with the culture and country she was born into. Her culture allows her very few choices and opportunities. She needs a hand-up. She needs love and empowerment.
Our program does not exist to fix Haiti or change Haiti's culture. That is a battle we won't likely win no matter how hard we try. We can change a few misconceptions. We can make a dent here and a dent there in long-held incorrect beliefs. WE can empower the women we serve, but we won't always succeed in convincing our Moms to use birth control or to plan ahead or to breastfeed their newborn. Sadly, we won't be able to protect our women from forced sexual intercourse. (Rape) While it is easy to get stuck being frustrated with what cannot be changed, our challenge is to focus on what can be done.
Our program exists to show mercy and grace and love to the forgotten and to be to them a little bit of Heaven on Earth. We hope that by feeling unconditional love, they might desire to know the unconditional love of the Father. We pray to that end. We are here to love and serve ladies that "don't learn" and that have incredibly hard challenges with very little hope for an improved living/financial situation.
Jesus came not only for me and for you, but for Angena. He loved the prostitute, the unclean, and the serial mistake-makers. He did not give up on them or turn away. It is for this reason that we won't ever turn Angena away. We hope and pray she does not have another unplanned pregnancy - we're doing everything we can to educate her about that - but if she returns to us, we will love her and serve her and see her through another pregnancy - because love empowers.
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