Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home for Christmas

Reid and I are home in America for the holidays! So the blog will be back up and running in January!

Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two Front Teeth

Hello blog readers--we sent out this letter via e-mail earlier this week, but we thought we would post it here as well. Merry Christmas!

All We Want for Christmas….

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas from Africa! As most of you know, we are spending this year volunteering with Touching Tiny Lives in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. It has been a pretty interesting first couple months of marriage: living in a hut, working with sick babies, and adjusting to a different pace of life (much slower). Though there are challenges, we feel very lucky to be here together, working for an organization that does such great work.

We have been writing a blog about our experiences, and many of you have read it and asked how you can help. Being perpetual procrastinators, we haven’t replied to any of you. But as the Christmas giving season approaches, we thought we would offer some ideas for how you can help. And since we are a little bit competitive – mostly Bridget, really – we thought we would make a challenge out of it. Before we get to the challenge, however (settle down, Susie), a little on what TTL does, and how you can help.

In the Mokhotlong district of Lesotho where we are working, HIV and AIDS are ravaging the community. With HIV rates estimated at near 30%, Lesotho is at the epicenter of the global HIV epidemic. Life expectancy has dropped from 45 to 38, and rates of associated infections, such as TB, are soaring. Largely as a result of this epidemic, some estimates suggest that there are as many as 100,000 orphans in Lesotho, out of a population of only 1.8 million. Many other children have contracted HIV from their mothers. In too many tragic cases, children in Mokhotlong district are both orphaned and HIV positive.

Touching Tiny Lives (TTL) is dedicated to helping children under five years of age affected by this epidemic. Managed and staffed by women and men from the community, the organization has served over four-hundred kids since beginning work in 2004, and currently provides life-saving support to over 130 children and pregnant mothers.

The motto here is….one child at a time. We are not trying to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we are trying to make a difference in individual lives.

To do this, TTL employs a unique model consisting of three integrated programs. At the core of the Touching Tiny Lives model is an outreach program that supports children in their homes by providing nutritional, medical, and educational support. A complementary PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) program works with pregnant mothers to prevent transmissions to newborns. Finally, TTL operates a safe-home – a type of temporary orphanage - in Mokhotlong where severely malnourished and sick children are rehabilitated. The safe-home is a final safety-net for the most vulnerable kids, and a temporary home to some of the cutest babies around.

In order to run these programs, TTL has a basic set of needs: food, medicine, clothes, staff, transportation, and a warm place for babies to sleep. That’s really it – there are no frills here at TTL. We just need to reach the kids in their remote villages, provide them with food and medicine, and, if they are really sick, bring them to the safe-home and give them around the clock care, a warm bed, and all the food they can eat (as our boss, Nthabeleng, says, “Food is the best medicine.”)

You saw it coming, of course, but the common denominator for all of this is money. While TTL receives some funding from foundations and international organizations, over 60% of TTL’s budget comes from individuals. So, this Christmas we are hoping that each of you will consider making a donation to TTL. Here are some ideas of what your donation can help TTL achieve:

$5 = 1 Bag of Powdered Milk

As most mothers surely know, but Bridget and I are just learning, babies drink a lot of milk! Especially in a country where a well-balanced diet is not an option, and where many mothers have passed away, milk is the critical food-stuff for young children. TTL gives out powdered milk to outreach clients and the kids in the safe-home each drink a few bottles of the stuff each day. A gift of $5 buys one bag of powdered milk for a kid who truly needs it.

$10 = One-Night at the Hospital

When clients require hospitalization, TTL arranges their transport and pays their hospital bill. Without these services, most clients would not be able to visit the hospital. Make a gift of $10, and we can make sure babies and pregnant mothers are able to spend a night in the hospital when they need urgent care.

$15 = 1 Tin of Formula

When children lose their mothers at an early age, formula is the best option to make sure the kids don’t become malnourished. Formula is also a key tool in fighting the transmission of HIV from mother to child through breastfeeding. A tin of formula lasts about a month. Donate 1, 2, 5, or 10 tins of formula and help keep a kid fat and HIV free for that many months.

$50 = Electricity for a Month

Unlike most of Africa, Lesotho is a pretty cold country. Mokhotlong itself sits at about 8,000 feet above sea level and mountain chills come and go throughout the year (we can show you pictures of our snowed-in first week in Mokhotlong to prove it!). If you consider yourself a pragmatist, consider a $50 gift to cover electricity for a month. Sure, electricity isn’t warm and fuzzy, but it sure is warm!

$100 = 1 Month Salary for a Care-giver

Not only does one-month’s salary provide love and care for a TTL baby, it also provides a much needed job for a local woman (and though it seems so minimal, this is a good salary by Mokhotlong standards). These women are the heart and soul of TTL’s operations, and giving them a salary helps them care for TTL’s babies and their own babies at home.

$150 = 2 Tanks of Gas = 1 Week of Outreach

We know, no one really wants to donate gas. But a tank of gas at TTL goes a long way, and two tanks of gas usually last a whole week. During that time, one TTL outreach car will visit about 20 homes otherwise cut-off from help and deliver food, medicine, or a life-saving ride to the hospital.

$1,000 - $1,200 = One-Year Salary for a Caregiver or Outreach Worker

In a one-year period, about 25-30 kids will come through the safe-home, and over 250 kids will be served through outreach. A gift of $1,000 can pay the salary for one care-giver for a whole year. Or, if outreach is more your thing, the same amount can cover the salary of an outreach worker.

So, these are some ideas of where your gift would go. Again, this is a no-frills sort of place - every dollar donated directly helps vulnerable babies.

Now, if you’re not competitive or you are already sold, you can stop reading here. For those competitive types (read: Fitzpatricks), here is the challenge. We are hoping that, as a group, we can together raise $10,000. If we hit this goal, Bridget and I will ululate and dance around in a traditional Basotho celebration, film it, and send the evidence to all of you.

But how can we reach this goal? We are sending this letter to 100 people: friends from high-school and college, family, family friends, etc. If everyone donated $100, we would reach the goal. But we understand from the very few news-clips that make it to Lesotho that these are hard-times, and we know that’s not possible for everyone. So we are asking two things:

  1. Donate if you can, and however much you can. The list above provides some ideas about what your gift can do. Every gift counts, whether it is $5, $50, or $500.
  2. Become a bundler! Pass this along to friends, neighbors, and family who might be interested in helping out a good cause. Get your church or school involved - there are some great ideas on the TTL website for how to get others involved. Just like you sort-of-know Kevin Bacon, TTL stays afloat through 6-degrees of love. Pass this on, and share the love.

Thanks so much for all your support.


Reid and Bridget

PS: When you donate, mention “R&B’s Christmas Appeal” and we will let you know if we reach the goal!

TTL is a 501c3 non-profit.

Here’s how to make a tax-deductible donation:

Donate by Credit Card or Debit Card (to the TTL General Fund):

Donate by Cash or Check:

Touching Tiny Lives Foundation

11415 Manor

Leawood, KS 66211-2930

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Slow Life

Though a lot of our writing here has to do with hardships, with pain, and with frustration, I think it is important to balance that with a sense of daily life in Lesotho. Days are spent in outreach, driving over humorously bad roads and seeing very unfunny sights. But these are matched by days when we sit in the office, entering receipts, writing grants, brainstorming, killing flies. These days, trust me, are much less interesting to write about.

Our life outside of work (and I say “outside” very loosely, as we live a five second walk from the safehome and the lines between work and play are very blurred), though also fairly uneventful, might be interesting at least in comparison to an average day in the US.

So here they are, some of the heretofore unpenned details of life in Mokhotlong:

6:00 am—Wake up. Fully intend to get up and exercise. Especially since we have already had a full 8 hours of sleep.

6:10 am—Fall back asleep

7:00 am—Wake up for real. Guess we needed 9 hours. Currently residing in one of the empty rooms in the row house because our rondavel is having a worm infestation. Dash into said rondavel to retrieve some clothing. Spend at least 5 minutes inspecting the walls and floor for evidence of more worms. Find evidence. Get grossed out.

7:30 am—Stumble into the kitchen to make coffee. Cut off a few slices of homemade bread, toast these in the oven and spread with jam bought in South Africa and carefully rationed to avoid the strange canned jam found in Mokhotlong.

7:59 am—Leave for work.

8:00 am—Arrive at work. Love the commute.

8-8:30 am—Check e-mail. Normal enough, except must be done on a dial-up connection. Remember those? Yeah, takes you straight back to 1998. In a bad way.

8:30-1:00 pm—General office work, not really worth writing about.

1:00 pm—Lunch time. Go up to the kitchen and scoop out some leftover beans and slow-roasted tomatoes from the night before. Delicious. Analyze the sky to assess the likelihood of imminent downpour, decide getting off the compound is worth the risk.

1:20 pm—Walk to the “fruit and veg.” About a fifteen minute walk from TTL, a warehouse that receives a shipment every Wednesday of fruits and vegetables that are otherwise unseen in Mokhotlong. Interestingly, half the warehouse contains boxes of fruits and vegetables, and the other half - blankets. We usually stick to the produce side.

Every week is an adventure entailing many plans of what to cook that night based on the last week’s haul, which are then dashed when we actually get there and realize there are entirely different options available. We went with an open mind this time, and emerged triumphant with cauliflower, squash, pears, avocados and cucumbers. Very exciting.

2:00-5:00 pm—Back to work. A few outreach clients come in to receive money for transport. One woman comes in to ask us for supplies like soap and Vaseline, because her niece came for a doctor’s visit the day before and was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital. Children are not allowed to stay at the hospital alone, so when a child is admitted it causes a general upheaval. Worse, since this was unexpected, neither the child nor the aunt brought clothes, cleaning supplies, etc. Still, I am thankful that the child was admitted—she was referred to TTL earlier in the week because, though she is thirteen and therefore outside of our normal mission, she looks about 8 years old, and terribly wasted. The aunt thankfully takes the supplies and returns to the hospital through the now pouring rain.

5:01 pm—End of the work day. Dash up to the kitchen through the downpour with schemes to make jam with the lucky pear find. Let me tell you—all those things that you have always wanted to do but have never had time for? You have time in Lesotho. I spend an hour or so slicing, macerating, and boiling the pears with some cardamom left by Dan. Reid and I then sit down to read for a while in the kitchen.

6:00 pm—Decide to make a simple dinner—tuna melts with a tomato, onion, and avocado salad. Of course, this “simple” dinner includes making our own mayonnaise, salad dressing, and using up the remains of the bread I baked the night before. So simple is a relative term here.

6:35 pm—Dinner is served.

7:00 pm—Mix up the dough for more bread to be eaten with the jam tomorrow morning.

7:15 pm—Go back to reading.

8:00 pm—Jam finished boiling. Attempt to can it. Hopefully avoid botulism.

8:30 pm—Get ready for bed.

8:35 pm—In bed (yep, seriously). Read for a while longer.

9:30 pm—Sleep.

(Note: Our lives are not always QUITE this slow, even here. But with Ellen, Will, and Nthabeleng gone for the week, things are exceptionally low key. Though quite lovely).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Good Day

Half-way through the day I jotted in my notebook: “A good day?” It was a hopeful thought encouraged by the way the day was unfolding and the 20 healthy kids I had just seen. A week later, I am tempted to scratch it from my notebook.

I was on outreach in a remote village helping to train a village-health worker as part of a new TTL initiative to train “first-responders” in the community. We left the TTL compound extra-early for a 2 ½ hour drive followed by an hour-long hike over two mountain ridges and finally reached the village around 11 am, tucked away in the almost-green valleys of the San Martin area.

After the first two hours in the village, we were indeed having a good day. One by one, children arrived at the small home of an elderly woman named Mateboho, anointed as the Village Health Worker by the government sometime in the 1980s, but since then mostly ignored. TTL’s new program aims to turn this woman and others like her into functioning tools in the war against malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.

With our help, Mateboho weighed and measured each of the kids and we discussed what the measurements meant with her. One kid looked healthy, but was actually a bit underweight for her age. TTL will provide her family with food. Another little boy looked a little underweight, but actually weighed-in at a healthy 9 kg.

Twenty kids down, and only one or two were underweight. None had tested HIV positive, and all seemed in good overall health. A good day.

As we started to pack our bags to depart, Mateboho said we needed to see one more child. “Very close,” she assured us, and we walked to a neighbor’s house where we found our last child of the day.

The mother, covered in heavy blankets, lay on a thin pad against the wall while the grandmother filled in the details. Her daughter has TB, is HIV positive, and delivered a baby boy two days earlier. The child was 2 months premature. We crept gently across the room to take the child from the mother’s arms.

With the child swaddled in blankets, we did not yet understand what 2 months pre-mature really meant. But as the blankets were removed, the grim reality of a preemie in rural Africa stared us in the face. The child looked hardly alive. Eyes shut. Yellowed skin. Wrinkled, unformed features.

After little discussion and with little fanfare, the grandmother packed a few belongings for her daughter and grandson, and we headed back towards Mokhotlong and the hospital. The mother, 2 days postpartum and wheezing with TB, made the trek with us back over the two mountain ridges. A 2 ½ hour drive later, I held the child in my arms as we admitted the family to the hospital and said we would be back the next day to check on them.

Two days later, we heard from the hospital that the child, Bokang, had died. TTL drove the mother back to her village, child in arms, and she hiked back to her village to continue recovering from TB.

Maybe I was naive, but I thought that if we got the child to the hospital then it had a fighting chance. Unfortunately, for some children, it seems that it really is too late. Our involvement with the Village Health Workers started in hopes of avoiding this kind of crisis—when women and children in remote villages are not reached in time. Hopefully, with the help of the VHW we can find the next pregnant woman before she delivers. But until such partial redemption occurs, it seems certain that it was not a good day.

This post by Reid.