Six months after the earthquake, mothers in Chardonnières fight for their children’s health

At only nine months old, Syndia Célestin experienced the greatest pain: her mother died after fighting for her life for several months. The earthquake on 14 August 2021 found her bedridden in her mother’s house in Chardonnières unable to move to seek shelter. Debris fell on her legs and her health worsened despite receiving medical attention. Her newborn daughter needed urgent help to survive. Her grandmother, Vita Lubin, 53, welcomed her into her home to provide her with food, a home, and a loving embrace.

The girl’s mother was ill for months before she died at the end of December. “I took her to several hospitals. I sold almost everything I had to get the money to support her medical treatment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t save her,” says Vita, sitting on the terrace of her house, visibly damaged by the earthquake, as desolation infuses her story.

In addition to being motherless, Syndia Célestin suffers from severe acute malnutrition. Despite her best efforts, Vita lacks the resources necessary to meet her granddaughter’s food and care needs. “I give her food whenever I can. Some days I just give her bread and peanut butter, but that’s not enough,” she regrets. Her job as a food vendor is not enough to make ends meet, and her savings disappeared between the earthquake and her daughter’s illness. She now lives in a poor neighborhood in Chardonnières with the baby and other family members.

As in the rest of the communes in southern Haiti, the earthquake destroyed or damaged a large part of the houses and buildings in Chardonnières. Many families were left homeless – facing uncertainty, food shortage and a lack of access to the most basic services, including drinking water.

Changing Habits and Child Malnutrition on the Rise

Eveline Dominique Chery, a health officer for UNICEF in Les Cayes, believes that the earthquake completely changed the lives of the inhabitants of Haiti’s southern coast. Families were forced to change their diet: “It became very difficult for people to access the food they were used to consuming. Some families even reduced the number of daily meals they gave their children; others changed the way they cooked. All this had a very strong impact on the nutrition of children in Chardonnières,” she explains. Six months later, the situation has hardly changed.

UNICEF estimates that nearly half a million children have been affected by the earthquake, with little or no access to shelter, drinking water, medical care, and nutrition. “The global acute malnutrition rate at the national level is 6%. In the south it’s 4.7%, but this figure is likely to have increased after the earthquake,” says Eveline.

The Communion of Mothers

Odena Michel, 46, is a mother of two children and a volunteer collaborator (Col-vol) at the Parenting Club in Bousquette – a village in Chardonnières – which meets once a month in a church. “In 2011, I started training mothers and organized several groups. I prepare hygiene and nutrition training activities, cooking demonstrations, and I also examine the girls and boys in the club,” explains Odena, who was trained as a community health worker. Vita Lubin is one of the club members, and a committed grandmother who attends the club meetings regularly to improve the present and future life of her granddaughter, Syndia Célestin.

Mantoute Marie Rolande is a nurse at the Sainte Anne Health Center in Chardonnières, and one of the people who manages the nutrition and vaccination services for children. “These last few months, we have detected malnutrition in more than ten children,” she says. On 1 February 2022, she welcomed Syndia Célestin to the hospital, who had a health check-up for the first time since birth. After examining her, Mantoute provided the baby with several doses of vaccines and gave her grandmother Plumpy’Nut to continue feeding her at home. Plumpy’Nut is a peanut paste-based ready-to-use therapeutic food that is easy to administer for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

The Parenting Club had discontinued its activities after the earthquake, but slowly resumed the meetings. The goal is to mobilize women to improve the nutritional situation of children in the area. “Thanks to the Parenting Club, in recent years there have been fewer malnourished children in the area,” says Col-vol Odena.

There are currently 179 clubs operating in the Great South region, and, although these groups have been around for years, they are proliferating thanks to UNICEF’s support to the Ministry of Health.

“UNICEF, through the Integrated Health Services for Adolescents and Women project (SSIAF), has cooperated with the Ministry in the training of the ASCPs (Multi-skilled Community Health Workers). It also helps us with the clubs, supporting the activities that the mothers organize each month,” says Céline Percy Élysée, Child Health Coordinator of the Southern Health Department. The SSIAF project is funded by Canada and implemented by UNFPA, UNAIDS, PAHO, WHO, and UNICEF.

Wilnèse Mogène, 31, lives with her daughter in Lapas 2, a village in Chardonnières. In 2016, she was invited by Odena to join the club. “Thanks to the Parenting Club, I’ve learned a lot of things. They taught me the principles of hygiene and nutrition. I’ve learned how to balance what you eat at home,” she says. The training she received in the club enabled her to feed her 10-year-old daughter better. “In the past, my daughter often had headaches. She couldn’t understand what she was studying. Since I started serving her balanced meals, she no longer gets headaches. Now she studies well and remembers all the lessons,” Wilnèse says.

Her daughter, Wiltana-Beaudier St-Cyr, a fifth-grader, lives with her, but was on vacation at her father’s when the earth shook on 14 August. “I immediately thought of my mother. I was afraid,” Wiltana recalls. She says she is always afraid when there are earthquakes, as she knows that when the earth shakes, she could be one of the victims. This underlying fear, however, does not prevent her from dreaming about her future: “When I grow up, I want to be a nurse so I can care for the sick.”

Since the earthquake, UNICEF and the Ministry of health has tested 21,800 children under five for acute malnutrition. Over 1,100 children among them were treated for acute malnutrition and 3,700 for moderate acute malnutrition. UNICEF prepositioned emergency nutritional supplies to care for 27,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in the Nippes, South and Grand’Anse affected by the earthquake.

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