Zeina Makhoul, SPOON’s Nutrition Scientist, recently returned from Haiti where she trained orphanage staff on the implementation of a comprehensive Nutrition Screening System, developed by SPOON in partnership with Holt International Children’s Services. The Nutrition Screening System is designed to identify critical feeding and nutrition needs of children living in orphanages and foster care. Through the Nutrition Screening System, children with feeding and nutrition needs can be identified and treated before they become impacted by malnutrition.
My second trip to Holt Fontana Village in Haiti was absolutely amazing. I was heartbroken saying my goodbyes to the staff and especially to the children. I got to see the children celebrate their Kindergarten graduation J and International Day of the Child. I got to decorate the stage with Miss Rollande, their teacher, where they performed songs and dances to a big crowd of family, friends, and caregivers. I got to dance with them many times as they practiced to the beat of a popular song by a Haitian artist (Dekole by J-Perry. The song has beautiful lyrics and calls on Haiti and Haitians to rise up and take flight (to “dekole”). I bet you can’t help but dance too!). And I got to immerse myself in the culture and get to know the beautiful people of Haiti.
All dressed up and ready for graduation
Kids performing at graduation
The rest of the time, I was with Supreme (the Village’s manager), Miss Gilles (the Village’s head nurse) and Nicole and Aselène (two nursing interns sponsored by Holt Fontana), in a small but, fortunately, air-conditioned room training on nutrition, the screening tools, feeding children with special needs, anemia, measuring weight, height, hemoglobin, food allergies, low birth weight, severe malnutrition, diarrhea, and more. Did I mention the training was in French?! While Supreme, the only participant who speaks English, did a big part of the translation, I was alone with the nurses for 3 days. Thanks to my French school education (and skills in Pictionary!), we were able to successfully go through the training and have interesting discussions on malnutrition.
Learning to do finger sticks
Learning to measure head circumference
After more than 30 hours of training over one week, we started screening the children at the village. The nurses worked efficiently together; while one took weight and height measurements, the second recorded the numbers on the screening form, and the third got ready for hemoglobin measurement. They switched every few children so they all get a turn to practice all procedures. It was nice to finally see the training put to work.
While most people would flinch at the thought of getting their finger pricked, the children at the Village were so excited, comparing their colored bandages. Not a single tear in the house. They’re the bravest kids I’ve met! The staff found that nearly half of the children were anemic. All the children are receiving a multivitamin and a protocol is now in place to supplement those who are anemic with iron and follow-up with future screenings.
The training was definitely well received. I can see the nurses’ confidence increase and their skills improve the more children they screened. Miss Gilles was so happy that she could finally record information on a form instead of a notebook. Also, the electronic database allows her to print a list of dates for routine screenings, future hemoglobin testing, dates of iron supplementation, doctor’s appointments, etc. for all the children with only few clicks. This will facilitate follow-up care.
As for Nicole and Aselène, they are probably the first two nursing students (due to graduate in August!) in Haiti to receive training on the unique nutrition needs of institutionalized children. They can hopefully apply the knowledge and skills they acquired in other child care institutions or in their practice, wherever that might be.
Zeina with nurses and nursing students
As the pilot phase continues, we will continue to work with the staff at the Village to refine and improve the nutrition screening system so no child has to needlessly endure any form of malnutrition, even if mild.
Until next time, I leave you with my favorite verses from Dekole:
Si-n vle peyi-n avanse If we want our country to advance
Fòk nou mache tèt kole We must walk together
Peyi sa twò rich pou-l pòv This country is too rich to be poor