It felt so good to get back to Haiti after a six-month absence due to COVID-19. The sun shone every day. I flew from Ft. Pierce, Florida to Cap-Haitien along with nine other passengers with Missionary Flights International flight.
Upon arrival, my forehead temperature was taken and I was asked questions about sickness and exposures. The airport was empty of passengers except for the 10 of us and our luggage was quickly found. We made it through customs quickly – even customs was off their usual game…. If you know what I mean……I was asked to quarantine for 14 days and told I would be called three times to check for sickness. I was always masked. I did not visit any stores or markets, and I only engaged in outdoor activities on my own street and at the factory. Fortunately, a few of my friends visited me with masks on and brought delicious local fruit.
At the factory, all employees and visitors wash hands for 20 seconds, get a forehead temperature check, step out of their street clothes and take a shower before they enter the premises wearing clean scrubs. Although there is little testing in Haiti, we assume that almost half of our staff, out for less than a week with a “little fever” has had COVID. The rate of severe illness and death in Haiti is very low officially and anecdotally. We were braced for more serious illnesses, but it appears the worst predictions have not come to pass. We are very grateful but continue with protocols and holding our collective breath.
I was very happy to reunite with my old colleagues and friends and they with me. We organized a party for August 31 to celebrate a production record of 1,000,000 kg this year so far. We had one party for the day shift and one for the night shift. I attended both and got a chance to make a short speech and exchange smiling eyes (over masks) and elbow bumps with our employees. This production milestone is a huge accomplishment in a year with long-lasting fuel shortages and many security issues which shut down production off-and-on for several months last fall. This production milestone was achieved despite COVID-19, which shut down the factory for two weeks this spring until MFK’s Haitian staff requested and received permission to reopen as an essential industry. We could not be prouder of our production team.
Magdalla, now the lone nutrition nurse, has enthusiastically been visiting one clinic every day and helping them establish clinic protocols for COVID-19 prevention, along with evaluating and treating children for malnutrition and educating and supplementing pregnant women. She mentors 5 prenatal programs and 11 malnutrition clinics in the north. Of course, there are clinics all over Haiti where we have educated the staff and they check in with us regarding problems and questions. Magdalla fields all their questions. She is as steady as they come. She calmly carries on as an example to others that they can also calmly carry on.
James, our agronomist, mentors farmers enrolled in our Champions Program on their own land once a week. These are small holder farmers who have done especially well in our education groups. They receive special hands-on attention, hoping to take them to the next level for yields, quality and income and be examples of success for other farmers in their communities.
During my visit, I was again inspired by the seriousness of purpose of our Haitian employees in their efforts to produce life-saving products for malnourished children. I was also reminded of the challenges of operating a factory in a developing country. On the last day of my visit MFK production was disrupted because of problems with two generators. This only strengthened my resolve to work with the Board to transition to solar energy as a renewable and sustainable source of power. Stay tuned to hear more about our move to solar energy.
Our big goal has always been to hand over our factory, nutrition and agriculture programs entirely to Haitians. COVID-19 has required this before we thought we were ready. Our team has done a great job of sustaining our past progress. Our job now is to continue to support the current performance and to help the Haiti team take it to the next level with malnutrition prevention, improved peanut production and sustainable energy.
We are deeply grateful for your committed partnership on this journey to sustainable excellence in Haiti.
Pat and the MFK Team