It was our first day in Haiti with the Reliv Kalogris Foundation (RKF). Arriving in this country was a bit of a culture shock. After a drive to the hotel and a brief stop there, it was time to get out and see what the RKF did in this small country (just for reference: Haiti is about the size of Maryland). We hopped into Dr. Manno’s suv and headed off with our 4-60 air-conditioning going full blast!
I really couldn’t tell you how long it took us to get to the first feeding station, a school out in the country. The drive started with less than perfectly paved roads and digressed to an incredibly bumpy dirt road that went back into Haitian farmland. The landscape of Haiti is really quite beautiful. It almost looks like something out of a movie. There are exotic trees, random goats, beautiful skies, and everything is so vibrant. The contrast of the blue sky and green countryside reminded me of something from the movies…. but it was right there.
We finally arrived at our first destination in the community of Bois de Lance. It was a school/church in the midst of what I’m going to call a farming community. It was on a dirt road that had shacks on either side of it, surrounded by fields. The school/church also is the local feeding center that provides Reliv shakes to the kids coming to school each morning.
As we walked into the school we were greeted by the students singing a song that I’m going to call “welcome.” They were quite eager to see us, as were the adults in the school and it really was a lot of fun to experience the love and enthusiasm from these kids we had never met before. The school itself was a bit dated by our standards. There were no windows, no electricity, and the students sat at crude wooden benches with tables as they studied. Almost all of the kids were in blue uniforms as they stood to sing their welcome song to us.
As Reggie and Kathy (our RKF hosts) inspected the school with Dr. Manno, Johnny and I had the opportunity to explore a little bit. My first thoughts were that it almost reminded me of a tropical version of what school was like for Laura in The Little House on the Prairie. In the back there was an outhouse. In the side yard, another building had collapsed. The entire school/church yard was surrounded by fences that were made of growing cactus… which would really be quite effective when you think about it. As we explored the small yard, generally a child or two would tag along and want to hold a hand or arm. Seeing as they spoke Creole and the closest I spoke was French… communication was hard. This really didn’t seem to matter though. These children just wanted to be close.
I interviewed the teacher at the school, with Dr. Manno interpreting. He told me about kids coming to the school with red hair and big tummies (signs of malnutrition) and how they change from looking malnourished to adding the Reliv shakes they get a “bright face, they become pretty” with black hair and a thinner abdomen. This is because of the Reliv products being provided by the Reliv Kalogris Foundation. Most of the kids rely on the Reliv shakes as their only source of food in the morning. The teacher shared that when the kids take the shakes they have more energy as he reiterated that most of the kids come to school without breakfast.
As I interviewed the teacher I noticed two kids standing on the other side of the cactus fence. They were emotionless. They just stood and stared. I soon realized that these were the kids that weren’t getting breakfast at school. They didn’t wear the uniforms. Instead, they just stood outside looking in. This was an image that stuck with me as we left both Bois de Lance and later Haiti.
The RKF does a fantastic job as it feeds around 11,000 kids in Haiti… there are still a lot more that need help. According to the World Food Programme, there are 100,000 kids under five years old that are malnourished in Haiti. My visit to Haiti really confirmed what a fantastic job RKF as it tackles this problem one child at a time. There was a stark difference between kids that were part of a RKF feeding program and those that weren’t. It was a difference beyond simple nourishment vs. malnourishment. The kids that were a part of the RKF feeding programs were happier and clearly had more hope for the future. The kids outside often just stared, emotionless… It is my hope that someday all of these kids will have the hope that the Reliv Kalogris Foundation offers.