We can’t celebrate 15 years of the Lespwa Timoun Nutrition Program without talking about the incredible woman who started it all – Marie Carmel Valdema. This program and the thousands of malnourished children it saves are the fulfillment of a dream Carmel had long before she began the program in 2003.
When Carmel was eight years old, living in the Haitian mountains, she would walk every day to a nearby fountain to collect water for her and her mother. “I remember there was a clinic very close to that fountain,” Carmel recalls, “and I could see all the children waiting to be seen by the doctors and health workers.” Since then, Carmel dreamed of a place where all children in Haiti would be well taken care of. This dream led Carmel to become a nurse, so that she would be able to serve as many children and families as possible.
Carmel spent more than a decade serving others alongside her husband, Father Pierre Fritz “Pere Val” Valdema on the island of La Gonave before being transferred to Croix des Bouquets. It was 2003 when Carmel first visited Crochu, a remote mountain region in Haiti that was part of her husband, Pere Val’s, new parish. “We found many children in bed sick,” Carmel remembers. “Their parents did not know the cause of their sickness, but I knew it was malnutrition.” Carmel saw this critical need and knew she had to help, so she reached out to friends in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and with their help, the Nutrition Program began.
During that first year, working alone and with very limited resources, Carmel provided life saving nutrition and medical care to 760 children. In the beginning, the Nutrition Program lacked basic needs like transportation, a building and even medicine, but Carmel never faltered in her mission or forgot her dream. That’s something that Carmel believes makes her people unique. “Haitians are very hopeful. We rely on God for everything and we rely on each other’s strength to grow.”
In 2005, God provided in the form of the clinic’s first vehicle. This generous gift from Rotary Club friends in Florida made it possible for the first time for Carmel and her now growing staff to have mobile clinics, and thus reach and care for even more children in remote villages where the need was greatest. However, not having a building meant their capabilities were limited, and Carmel struggled with their inability to serve severely malnourished children. “In the past, when we sent children needing to be hospitalized to other clinics, they turned them away and referred them back to us.”
With her vision of a place that could care for all children in mind, Carmel and the Nutrition Program staff worked and prayed, and in 2009 their faithfulness was rewarded when they were able to rent a building in Croix-des-Bouquets. This first clinic provided a place where doctors could see children and other patients in the community, and made it easier for medical mission teams to come and serve.
Five years ago, the Nutrition Program began being held in the Lespwa Timoun (“Hope for Children”) Clinic’s permanent location in Croix-des-Bouquets. Between the two meetings a week at the clinic and the eight remote locations where mobile clinic are held, the Nutrition Program is now serving 400 children on average a month. In 2018, as we celebrate fifteen years of the Nutrition Program, Carmel feels her greatest success is working and living to see her dream and vision come true. “My dream since I was eight years old was to become a nurse and to take care of my community. I am living my dream now. I have not been disappointed yet. It has been a long and slow journey, but it is unfolding so beautifully that we are fine with the pace.”