Lovena (pronounced Lov-NA) was 2 months old when her 17 year-old mother abandoned her with Paulette, her grandmother. For 4 months, Paulette tried to keep the baby healthy on rice water, porridge, and occasional milk, but when I met Lovena, she was 6 months old and only weighed 8.5 pounds. We started her on MedikaMamba, a malnutrition program we run that gives kids a nutritional boost through a peanut butter supplement. After only one week in the program, Lovena became ill with vomiting and diarrhea and had to be hospitalized at Providence.
Paulette has small children of her own - 9 year old Shelda, 6 year old Ecclesiaste, and 18 month old Yolande - so she found Lovena's teenage mother and took her to the hospital. "You have to stay with your baby until she's better!" Paulette insisted and then went home to her family.
Five days later, I stopped by the hospital to check on someone and saw Lovena, all alone, in the malnutrition ward. The teenage mom had abandoned her again and though other moms in the ward had been helping out, Lovena looked awful. She'd dropped to 7 pounds and though she was alert and spirited, her little body seemed to be wilting away. I sent for Paulette and after we talked, we both agreed that it would be best for Lovena to come home to Jubilee where we could keep an eye on her without leaving Paulette's other children untended. Unbeknownst to us, however, the hospital had already started abandonment papers on Lovena and refused to let Paulette take her home!
Once more, my connections at Providence paid off. It took several hours of arguing and cajoling and sweet-talking nurses and administrators before they would agree to release the child to us. We took her home on a taptap and walked the mile from Gonaives' town square to Paulette's house in Jubilee. I was carrying Lovena, wrapped up in a white blanket. It was only a week after the baby had died in Jubilee, right next door to Lovena, and I remember several people whispering as I walked past, "Oh no, Paulette's baby has died too!" It was eerie.
Lovena's been home for almost 3 weeks now. She is back on the peanut butter supplement and is doing well. Her weight has climbed to 8.4 pounds and she is always a spunky, lively little thing whose favorite sport is grabbing my nose. Her toddler aunt, Yolande, calls her "TiSourit" (Little Mouse) and when they come for their appointments, it's a whole family affair - Paulette, Shelda, Ecclesiaste and Yolande, all there to rejoice in Lovena's progress.