Monday, December 9, 2013

Pajama Movement

It has been quite a month or so since we launched Bennison Gives, our children's wear company for social good. We started at the Brick Church Fair here in New York City which was wonderful - great reception and a lot of excited customers. It was heartwarming to see, and I had my first taste of the retail world (from the selling side:)) at least in a small way. The Brick Church community was wonderful, and I can't wait to see all of the precious little ones wearing their Bennison jammies - please send photos! We then went to the Junior league show which was also a great learning experience. But in many ways what has excited me the most is to witness the grassroots enthusiasm of so many sweet friends and acquaintances and friends of friends who have reached out asking how they can help and be involved. The idea behind the company has always been that small acts can make a big difference (in this case providing pajamas which can make a life saving difference for newborn babies suffering from thermal regulation issues). And the power of women helping women around the world. In my own historic research (in my real job as a professor), I have seen in history the many instances that women have come together, even under the radar, as a powerful force for social change, and I see this happening before my eyes in this "pajama movement." Since we launched the company, I have had women in Omaha, Nebraska (thank you Carolyn Sutton), Grand Rapids, Michigan (Thank you Maggie Revel), and Brooklyn, New York (Thank you Amy Kushner)come together to collect pajamas to send to children in need. I have had emails from friends in Jackson Hole and San Francisco and Charleston and Washington, DC and St. Croix asking how they can be involved and what they can do to help. This is all in the span of a few shorts weeks. It has been so inspiring to see the grassroots seeds of this movement, and I know that we can make a big difference. As important as the actual pajamas collected is the illustration, by these acts, of the compassion and care that women have for those in need, and I know from being in Burundi how important it is for people there to know that they are not alone and have not been forgotten. From the knowledge that one is not alone arises hope, and we all need hope, especially those in dire need. Thank you for inspiring me and for supporting this project, and please reach out to me with any ideas as we move forward!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

BENNISON: Buy One. Send One. Give One.

I have not posted for a while, not for lack of thinking and continued work and interest in Burundi and global health.  I guess I have been percolating, brewing, and thinking through the next phase of what I hope will result in more sustainable ways of giving first to Village Health Works and the women and children of Burundi and over time to other places like it.  Turning 40 really prompted me to pursue this dream I have had for several years now, and this is it:

I am launching in a few weeks BENNISON, a children's apparel company with a social mission:  for every garment sold, we will send a pair of footed pajamas to a sick child in need.  Our model is simple:  we offer a high quality product, and by purchasing customers ignite a chain reaction of giving, first to the mothers and grandmothers hand making our garments in Lima, Peru, to the children who benefit from our beautiful garments here, and to those children for whom footed pajamas can be the difference between life and death.

While we knew that footed pajamas can save the life of a sick, malnourished newborn struggling with temperature regulation issues in Burundi and places like it, we have learned that the issue of newborn temperature regulation is one that global health organizations are actively working to solve.  Organizations like Save the Children have launched campaigns around "kangaroo care" - giving out slings by which a mother can tie her newborn baby to her body to help with temperature regulation and heart beat regulation.  Save the Children estimates that 3 million babies died last year from temperature regulation issues.  This is a treatable issue, and our footed pajamas play a critical role in solving this, not only for newborn babies but for malnourished children even into their teenage years.  We had a 13 year old boy come to the clinic in Burundi a few months ago who was given a size 5 toddler pajama - you can imagine what that means about his weight and how the warmth and comfort of pajamas could be helpful to him.

Please keep your eye out for BENNISON and join our movement.  We will be selling our garments and hosting pajama drives, and I hope that you will join our journey to make a difference in this world (a life saving difference) through simple acts.  We make giving easy, and we are eager to connect you with those in need through the international language of love, empathy, and the giving spirit.

Please visit BENNISON on Facebook and on our website (forthcoming)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Soccer and Notebooks

I can't believe I forgot to post photos of the soccer uniforms, soccer balls and notebooks we were able to get to the children at the local schools in Kigutu.  You may remember me telling you that in their notes to many children asked for these things.  I am so happy that we were able to at least fulfill this small wish.  I emailed these to the teachers to share with the students here in New York.  The boys in Oliver's class were particularly concerned that we get the soccer things to the boys there, and the girls about the notebooks.  Here they are:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Health Comes from the Bottom Up

I haven't posted in a while, although not a day goes by without thinking about my time in Burundi.  In an email exchange when I came home, I wrote to Deo that I left a piece of my heart there, and I am forever transformed by my experiences there.  I had the opportunity to spend an evening recently with Deo and his good friend and mentor Dr. Paul Farmer.  Paul is a co-founder of Partners in Health, an organization that builds health clinics in the poorest countries in the world, including Haiti and Rwanda.  Paul is also a professor at Harvard Medical School and chair of the department of global health and social medicine there.  He is the UN envoy to Haiti.  In short, he is doing amazing work all over the world, and what is even better is that he is one of the nicest, most humble and personable people you can imagine.  His genuine care for others, especially those most in need, is remarkable.

One thing I have learned from Paul that stands out is his emphasis not only on individual care but also on creating health systems and the power of these systems to transform communities.  I have used the phrase "institutionalizing change" as a way of describing how by organizing to empower communities and improve them, whether through hospitals, health clinics, or schools, these institutions have a ripple effect in making changes, big and small, throughout communities.  Paul also speaks of the importance of community health workers, trained community members who visit homes and learn how to identity illnesses and in some cases learn basic treatments.  Village Health Works implements the same system - in this way involving the community in their own care and expanding resources.  These community health workers also act as "accompagnateur"- a Haitian idea - to accompany those who are sick and to simply be with someone who needs help.  I love this idea - something so simple but so powerful - and the integral role it can play both on the individual level but also systemically.

Paul speaks more about these ideas in this piece:

Thank you for reading, and I will continue to post as I learn more!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Article from Paul Farmer on health equity

Just sharing another article on Paul Farmer and his work toward equitable health.  As I've mentioned in the past, Farmer and Deo met at Harvard and are close friends.  Paul Farmer has been a mentor and a strong supporter of Deo and Village Health Works.  We can all learn so much from him and his visionary work.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Deo and VHW in Times Square

Look what appeared the other day in Times Square!  Deo treating a patient along with a description of Village Health Works for all to see.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Butaro Hospital, Rwanda

I wanted to share an illustration and article from Partners in Health which illustrates how their hospital in the Butaro district of Rwanda has had a ripple affect in transforming Rwandan society.  It is an interesting example of how institutionalizing change, particularly through the development of a medical facility, can transform a society from the bottom up.  Partners in Health was co-founded by Paul Farmer  who is on the board of Village Health Works and is a close friend of Deo and Village Health Works.  Paul's life and work is the subject of another of Tracy Kidder's books called _Mountains Beyond Mountains_.  A remarkable story and a must read.  When we were in Burundi, we spent time with an American woman who was spending a month in Africa looking at hospitals like Village Health Works. She had just come from Butaro Hospital in Rwanda and marveled at how Rwandan society has made such strides and progress since the war and how Burundi has been forgotten by so many.  We can learn a great deal from looking at Partners in Health and what they have done, and we hope to build something similar in Burundi.  These institutions are beacons of hope in these areas and serve as examples for the rest of the world.  This is not just about providing medical care but about creating momentum for change and hope emanating from the people themselves.

Take a look at the link here:

I am learning with you and will post things as I come across them!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

honorary doctorate!

Williams College today released the names of those who will receive honorary doctorates this spring, and guess who is on the list?  My good friend Deo, for his work in Burundi!!

See press release:

This is not surprising for those of us who know Deo - what a well deserved honor.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pajama story #1

The people at Village Health Works have decided to send me stories of those children who have received the pajamas we sent over.  They continue to distribute them, and these stories really help to contextualize who these children are and to give us a sense of their lives.  Here is the first story - the names are anonymous due to patient confidentiality.  I hope to get photos also (apparently they just need to keep the names confidential).  

Here is the note about a little boy, 13 years old (nicknamed I.N. for purposes of this story).  You might wonder how a 13 year old is wearing footed pajamas size 5 toddler?  Please read below about his weight and size.

Here is an anonymous story about one of the patients, who recently wore one of the pajamas (Melchiade said he would send photos shortly, which I will forward along as soon as possible.): I.N is a 13 year-old boy weighing 13.4 kg (29.5lbs) and 103cm (3.37ft) tall with a BMI <-3DS. He's from outside of our catchment area, born to a family of eight children--he's not the only child suffering from malnutrition. He was hospitalized in the Village Health Works malnutrition ward for treatment of acute severe malnutrition. According to his medical history, it's his sixth hospitalization for the same cause. I.N. since birth drank his mother's breastmilk because of the absence of formula and other breastmilk. Every day, they looked for a lactating woman near I.N to breastfeed him. I.N. is in the fourth grade, and he has never failed a class. However, his progress in school has been inhibited by repeated hospitalization. Nevertheless, he is the first or second ranked student in his class. After 10 days of hospitalizatio, he left our services in a stable condition.

More thoughts on the letters

I ran into a dear friend this morning at a coffee shop, and she immediately hugged me and told me how much the letter her son received from the child in Burundi meant to him.  I have been approached by so many mothers who have told me that their children - ages 5, 6, and 7, have been explaining to them at home who wrote to them and where they are from.  It is amazing how much children can understand at a young age about the world.  It is also clear that children are naturally curious, open, interested, and empathetic toward others, especially other children in need.  This experience has taught me so much about these natural, childlike impulses, uninhibited, and I am more convinced than ever that prejudicial ideas and ideas around exclusivity are learned behaviors that are, in fact, counter to true human nature.  I'm not a psychologist, but these are my impressions.

I have also been touched to see how at this young age children are absorbing these lessons about others with different lives in different places.  Charlotte announced yesterday that she has a pen pal in Burundi.  This morning Oliver (7) asked me if he could ever go to Africa, and Dorothy (3) asked to look at mommy's Africa pictures.  Oliver said, I want to go to Bujumbura - of course I said yes!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deo, Dziwe, and Village Health Works

Deo and me.  It occurred to me that some reading this blog may not know the original reason we went to Burundi, and it all has to do with my good friend Deo!  He is from Burundi, and his amazing life story is told in Tracy Kidder's book _The Strength in What Remains_.  I won't tell you any more here - you have to read the book to learn more!  But he founded Village Health Works and is such an inspirational person. He also lives in New York, and I hope as many of you can meet him as possible. 

Deo and Dad - they had a great time together. 

Dad with Dziwe.  Dziwe and Deo met at Harvard, and Dziwe co-founded Village Health Works with Deo.  He is an amazing doctor and friend who works in emergency medicine in New York and Burundi.  I learned so much from talking to Dziwe and the accessible way he explains how the clinic works and the types of medical problems they see.  We all had a terrific time together! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book for Kigutu

I have been amazed at the response to this blog, and I am thrilled to be able to share Burundi and Village Health Works with others.  I received an email from a woman named Katherine Leppek who has organized a charity called Books for Kigutu. She has been collecting books to send over to the school in Kigutu, and the video on her website is wonderful and gives a much better sense of the school. 

Please take a look: 

This is just one example of many women who in their own ways are working to make the world a better place.  If we look throughout history, women are behind many of the most powerful social movements, and I see the seeds of women working for change around me every day between pick ups and drop offs, on playdates, at lunches, and in my many conversations about this work and other amazing projects people are working toward.  

Even though my trip is over, I will keep posting as we continue on our path to build the women's hospital for Village Health Works and as I learn more about Burundi.  For me, this is not just about this one place with so much need; it is also about illustrating how change can happen from the ground up. A hospital or a school are ways to institutionalize change - these are steps in the ripple effect of transforming communities.  

Bringing letters to Sacred Heart

What a treat it was to speak to Charlotte' class this morning.  I handed our these letters from Burundi, and the girls were so excited to see what they kids said to them.  I showed them photos of the school there, and they asked a lot of good questions, like:  do they have beds there, and if they do, do they have to make their beds?  And how do they carry things on their heads?  And if they have stores and restaurants there.  We talked about what they eat in Burundi, the weather, and how we might get jump ropes to the girls there:) 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Photos from the school - writing to the New Yorkers!

And another one

This letter from Evelyne reads:

I want to greet you.  Are you well?  We are doing well.

Thank you for writing me.  I drew this picture of flowers because I love you.

I want to ask for a notebook, pens - you would do something so good if you could give that to me.

What do you like to study?  I love French and Math.  I like everything.

(See around her flowers she writes over and over Love, love, love...!)

Another Burundian letter

This letter from Fainsi to Maggie reads:

Hello, thank you so much for writing this letter.  Are you well?

I love you Maggie.
I am well.

Please send me a uniform and notebooks.  I love you a lot.  I also need school supplies.

I love you.

I like French, Math, and Kirundi.

God bless you.
Thank you for writing me.

It was God who brought us together.  Everything you have done, God will bless you.
I wish you good luck.

Continue studying.  I am going to pass to the next grade with God's help. 

Letters from children in Burundi

This letter from Jisrene to Mason reads:

Thank you so much for writing this letter Mason.
Are you well?
Happy New Year.

I love doing jump rope.
Please send me a uniform and books and sports shoes if you can.
Thank you.
God Bless you.

(see the picture she drew of her doing jump rope below) 

Letters from children in New York

Letters from Sacred Heart that I brought over.  One little girl says that she loves to bike ride with her family, and the other loves swimming in the pool with her family.  Gabriella says "I love you" as so many children did in both New York and Burundi. 

A note on my visit to the local school in Kigutu

I am about to post photos from my visit to the local school in Kigutu.  My camera died while I was there- I thought I had charged it, but the electricity kept going out, so it did not charge as much as I wanted!  My dad took a lot of photos, and I now have hard copies of those.

As I mentioned before, I brought over notes from all of the children in my daughter Charlotte's kindergarten class and my son Oliver's first grade class.  Each of them drew a picture or wrote a note to the children in Burundi.  I also brought with me the class photos from each class, and when I gave the notes out to the children there, I pointed to the photo of the child who made the picture and explained in French that this child made the picture just for them.  You should have seen the Burundian children's eyes as I explained that these notes had come from so far away.  Turns out they did not know where New York was, and we were able to get a map over to the school after we left so that they could see better.

I am going to Oliver and Charlotte's classes tomorrow to talk to the children about their notes and to pass out the notes that the Burundian children wrote back.  I was so touched by the words the children wrote, and at the heart of it I keep coming back to the idea that in this forgotten place where they are not used to seeing tourists, the idea that they are not alone is so meaningful.  These children felt so special that someone from somewhere else, so far away, would think to write to them.  They wrote back notes that talked about how God had brought them such a blessing with these notes, and many drew pictures of themselves playing with the other child from New York.  The children also asked for things they needed: shoes, uniforms, notebooks (which we were able to buy), pens, and books.  Many expressed how hard they are studying, and encouraged the child here to study hard too.  They also expressed hope that they would be able to meet the child who wrote to them some day, and they hoped that they could continue writing.  And, as I said before, children on each side expressed love for each other.  This natural human instinct to love another is clear, and these children without prompting or inhibition wrote this in their letters.

Apparently the children here are excited to see these notes too.  I was at Buckley chaperoning a field trip last week, and the boys were asking how the trip was and when they could see their letters.  I can't wait to show them these notes from so far away.  Thankfully I convinced a few waiters at a local restaurant to help me translate - the letters are written in Kirundi!  I spoke to the children in French, and they seemed to understand, but most speak and write in the local language.  Pictures to follow in a minute....

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The public hospital

We went to see the public hospital near by to get a sense of health care in Burundi.  These hospitals are in terrible condition, and in addition people must pay for treatment.  If they can't pay, they are held there until they are able to pay for their treatment. 

This is the maternal ward.  There is no ventilation - it was hard to bring myself to enter. 

This is a delivery room.  

This is the other side of the delivery room.  Most women, when faced with the option of going to hospitals like this or going home to deliver, choose to go home.  The maternal mortality rate in Burundi is about 1 in 9 as a result of this substandard care.  VHW stands out in the beauty and quality of the facility, but they still do not have surgical rooms in which to safely perform c-sections.  

Women's Cooperatives, speaking to the people

Deo and me

Women carrying bricks

More women waiting at the clinic

Measuring a baby with a UNICEF scale donated to VHW

These musicians here with Deo played beautiful music for us.  They were performing in a concert last Saturday along with the American musicians for the president of Burundi.

Deo told us that the people at the clinic wanted to talk to us,  so he called a meeting and within minutes all of these people were gathered to talk to us.  My dad and I spoke to them, and then they got up to speak to us and to tell us their stories.  It was very sad and moving. 

Women's Cooperatives - this is how a road is made

Dziwe and Dad

These are women who come to VHW to work with the agronomist on staff to learn how to farm in healthy ways.  There is an entire teaching garden which is amazing.  The soil is very fertile, but there has been very little education about what to grow and how to grow it.  These women were taking an exam on what they had learned. 

Women gather at the clinic once a week to work together - weaving, gardening, and volunteering.  It is an important time to build community and friendships.  As Deo explained, this has become a very important part of the healing process for a people who have undergone such trauma and war. 

When we were there, community members were volunteering their time to build a road.  What an amazing scene this was.  The women carried the bricks on their heads, one group of men danced as they passed the bricks, and another group sang as they laid the bricks.  All the while the music from the music groups was emanating from the surrounding buildings.  It was a magical scene.