One year ago, 1-year-old Archelle weighed 16 pounds. Her tummy protruded and her hair had an orange-ish tint from malnutrition. But then she received a Gift of Hope — a gift of sponsorship.
In October 2016, Johnise walked into the Holt Haiti office in Port-au-Prince, her 20-month-old daughter Archelle on her hip. Weariness dulled Johnise’s eyes as she used a tissue to wipe her daughter’s runny nose. She sat down with a social worker, and began to share about her life.
Johnise is a single mother who lives with her daughter, her grandmother, mother, sisters and their children — all nine of them in a single-room house. Their home is near a trash-strewn riverbed in Tabarre, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area. When it rains, their house floods. In the rainy season, Johnise spends sleepless nights bailing muddy water out of their flooding house one bucket at a time. Mosquitos hatch in the stagnant water and buzz endlessly in the thick tropical air.
Johnise is strong, and she has learned to live like this. But when she saw how these conditions affected her daughter, she knew it was time to ask for help.
At over a year and a half old, Archelle was just 30 centimeters tall and weighed 16 pounds when her mother first brought her to meet our staff in Haiti. She had a distended belly, thin arms and reddish-brown hair — telltale signs of malnutrition and severe vitamin deficiency. She was sick, lethargic and cried often. She could only utter a few words and mostly communicated through sounds and gestures.
But despite all this, Archelle was alert — observing everything around her. Bright eyes and curiosity fought to be seen through the malnutrition and stunting of her tiny body.
Johnise had come to the right place.
Right away, a Holt sponsor stepped up to provide critical, lifesaving support for Archelle. Through her sponsor’s monthly gifts, Archelle – and Johnise — immediately began receiving nutritional help in the form of powdered milk, protein powder, a nutritional porridge and multivitamins.
But Archelle was frail and had a weak immune system, so it took a while for the nutrition to take effect. During her first two months in the sponsorship program, Archelle went to the hospital three times: once for a serious upper respiratory infection, once for malaria and another time for a throat infection.
“The greatest difficulty for families in Haiti,” says Beverly Sannon, Holt’s country representative in Haiti, “is poverty.” And as seen in Johnise and Archelle’s life, poverty reaches far and wide. Poverty is the force behind unsafe housing, dirty drinking water, lack of hygiene, frequent illness, stunted development and malnutrition. The systemic poverty of their community — and country — was evident in every facet of Johnise and Archelle’s lives.
To create truly lasting change, they’d have to get to this root cause of Archelle’s malnutrition. Around the world, this is what Holt sponsors and donors do — they empower children and families to overcome poverty and achieve their full potential.
For Johnise, this meant joining Holt’s Chanje Lavi program.
Meaning “Changing Lives” in Haitian Creole, this donor-funded woman’s empowerment program provides long-term, sustainable support for single mothers through job skills training, computer training, counseling support, and nutritional and educational sponsorship for their children.
While sponsorship and an additional $50 monthly stipend provided for Johnise and Archelle’s immediate needs, Johnise began a training program to become a professional bank teller. Before, she had only dreamed of an opportunity like this. Without an education, she had few — if any — options for earning a sustainable income.
Over time, as Johnise went to school, Archelle gradually grew stronger as the increased nutrition took effect. In a matter of weeks, she gained two pounds and grew two centimeters taller!
But the change wasn’t just physical. In only a short time, Archelle started playing energetically during check-in meetings with their Holt social worker. She called her mother and other relatives by their names, and communicated her wants and needs through words, rather than sounds and gestures. And this healthy development only increased with each passing month.
Today, over a year later, Johnise and Archelle’s lives are staggeringly different. Johnise graduated from school and is seeking a job at a bank. Archelle weighs 25 pounds, stands 33 centimeters tall, is rarely sick and her language skills are at kindergarten level.
In one year, the trajectory of their lives changed forever.
“Our sponsorship program is our greatest success in Haiti,” says Beverly. “We can see a difference between the children before and after! Many come in very malnourished. But now, they are very lively children, very happy and smiley with round cheeks.”
Because of one generous gift of hope — a gift of sponsorship — Johnise and Archelle have truly experienced “Chanje Lavi.” Their lives have changed in ways that permeate far deeper than their newfound physical health.
“And this,” says Beverly, “is a good sight to see.”