Stories & News from Medical Missionaries

Learn more about the work of Medical Missionaries by reading updates on our programs, and the stories that our volunteers and Global Health Fellows have shared:

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Salt Sales Begin in Baranque!
Sunday, September 13th marked a milestone for our Salt Project: it was the first day that Bon Sel Dayiti was sold in Baranque, a rural community located about ten miles outside of Thomassique. Within the first half-hour of sales, 78 one-pound sachets of co-fortified salt had been sold. What excited us most, however, was not the high quantity of salt sold, but the enthusiasm shown by the citizens of Baranque. As people poured into the small house adjacent to the local church to purchase their first bags of iodized, DEC-treated salt, they were visibly excited to take an important step in ameliorating iodine deficiency and preventing the transmission of lymphatic filariasis. (To read more about the University of Notre Dame’s Bon Sel Dayiti program and the health benefits of co-fortified salt, read our earlier blog post).

In early July, we began making presentations about iodized/DEC-treated salt at the Catholic church in Baranque. The church has an important presence in Baranque, and thus connected us to a large social network. After introducing ourselves to the community and explaining Bon Sel Dayiti, we returned each week and spoke with community members about their salt consumption, ideas for distribution of Bon Sel, as well as their general ideas for improving health in Baranque. During one such discussion with the congregation, someone proposed forming a Salt Committee in Baranque, to manage sales and lead an education campaign about the benefits and proper use of the co-fortified salt. The formation of this committee, an idea generated by community members themselves, demonstrates the extent to which the citizens of Baranque feel a sense of ownership over the Bon Sel initiative.

It was agreed that Ilrick Dubuisson, a respected community leader and sacristan of the Catholic church in Baranque, would nominate individuals to be delegates of the Baranque Salt Committee. The committee consists of eleven community leaders, five women and six men. Included on the committee is Mimos, a salt vendor from Baranque. During the first committee meeting in August, a secretary and treasurer were appointed to manage the bookkeeping for salt sales. All of the delegates are responsible for actively publicizing the availability of Bon Sel in Baranque, and educating their fellow community members about iodine deficiency and lymphatic filariasis. Furthermore, the committee educates about the proper use of the salt: Unlike the other salt available in the market, it should not be washed because the DEC will be lost. They also spread the word that the salt should be used just like normal salt, instructing people not to use higher quantities than normal.

Currently, Medical Missionaries acts as a middleman between Notre Dame’s Bon Sel Dayiti factory and the Baranque Salt Committee. Our ultimate goal is to establish a self-sufficient program in Baranque that does not rely on our organization to order and transport the co-fortified salt. Given the enthusiasm and efficiency of the Baranque Salt Committee, this may well be a feasible goal.

What marked Sunday, September 13th as one of our most exciting days in Haiti was not just the successful launch of the salt project, but the efficacy of the health committee model. As the members of the Baranque Salt Committee proudly wore their nametags and organized the salt sales that morning, they were empowered to improve the general health of their community. We hope to use this health committee model when implementing and expanding our other community health projects, as well. This model allows for people to have a vested interest in health programming, and to realize that they are uniquely situated to effect lasting positive change in their own communities.
5 oct 09 @ 11:37 pm 

School Lunch Program

One night during our first few weeks in Thomassique, two young brothers named Bensi and Benson came to the clinic staff house in tears. The usually upbeat, energetic boys looked weak and somber. They explained to us that they had not eaten for two days. Their family of fourteen could not sleep because they were so hungry. Could we help them?

Surely we had enough extra food in the staff house to feed Bensi and Benson that night. But what about their parents and ten siblings? What about the many more hungry nights that inevitably lay in their future? And what about the thousands of other hungry children in Thomassique? We were overwhelme
d by the gravity of the situation at hand.

That night, we made sandwiches for Bensi and Benson. We explained that this was a one-time occurrence – we are a clinic and not a food program; we simply to do not have the capacity to feed children every day. It was a Band-Aid solution – immediate but unsustainable – to the widespread, persisting problem of food insecurity in Haiti. That night was the first of several instances in which we have been asked to hand out food. Such situations present us with a recurring dilemma: Our instinct is to feed hungry children, but we must realize that haphazardly handing out food creates unsustainable dependencies that could ultimately threaten the efficacy of our programs in Thomassique.

A more effective way for us to begin to establish food security in Thomassique is to collaborate with organizations that have the resources and expertise to implement sustainable, broad-reaching programs. That is just what Rita and Nick, the ’08-’09 Global Health Fellows, did last fall when they contacted Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nutritious food through feeding programs worldwide. Rita and Nick applied to receive enough lunches for two local schools – EMSH and Tèt Ansanm, where lunches were served four times a week for the remainder of the school year. Given the success of the program last year, they sought to expand to more schools in Thomassique. After fundraising to purchase two large food storage containers and reaching out to the directors of several other schools, two new schools were added to the program: Lekòl Fermy and Lekòl Me, the Catholic school.

A few weeks ago, the new FMSC shipment (40,655 lbs of food!) arrived in Banica. A sufficient portion of the food was delivered to the clinic, and we’ll continue to receive truckloads from Banica throughout the year. We calculated the appropriate quantity of food to distribute to each school every month, and met with the school directors to discuss the logistics of food delivery, storage, and preparation. The directors expressed a great level of enthusiasm and gratitude for the School Lunch Program.

The nutritious meals, which are packaged in sachets containing enough food for six meals, consist of rice, soy nuggets, vitamins, minerals, and dehydrated vegetables. The meals are easily prepared by boiling water and cooking the packaged food for 20 minutes. Each meal costs just US$0.17 to produce, and the food is completely paid for by FMSC. Rita’s fundraising covered the costs of shipment and storage. This year, we’ll be working to think of new ways to fundraise to cover these expenses in the future (if you are interested in donating to this program, please email us at

This past Tuesday marked the beginning of the school year, and was indeed a very exciting day for us. We visited Tèt Ansanm (a free school co-founded by a clinic employee, Down Webelson) as the children received hot meals. Our feelings were indescribable – it was incredible to witness tangible improvements to the lives of so many children. Through our School Lunch Program, 1690 children will receive 270,864 meals this year.

This year, Bensi and Benson will attend EMSH, one of the schools in our lunch program. We are happy to know that they will regularly receive nutritious meals. Remembering that difficult night three months ago, we realize that the School Lunch Program is only a first step in addressing a problem that is chronic and expansive. However, we truly believe that our partnership with FMSC exemplifies the kind of programmatic collaboration necessary to effect real and lasting change.
5 oct 09 @ 11:32 pm 

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Medical Missionaries' partners in improving health

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 Meds & Food for Kids

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