Virginia Group Gives Newborns in Haiti a Better Chance at Life

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Oct. 9, 2018)  For the poor in isolated regions of Haiti, childbirth is a dangerous process and can turn tragic very quickly for both mother and baby.

Meg Hanrahan and Melinda Engelbrektsson of Burke, Va., understand the risks associated with bringing a new life into the world, and are focused on making the experience of childbirth as clean and as safe as possible in Haiti's most destitute communities.

"Melinda and I both had difficult pregnancies that, had we been in Haiti, we and our babies would have died," Hanrahan said. "So, we have a close and dear affinity for women's health, and in particular, pregnancy."

Hanrahan began to pray and to search for a way to help women in Haiti. One Sunday, during Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Burke, Va., she listened as another Food For The Poor donor, Fish4Hope, spoke about their experiences in Cap Haitien. But it was when she saw a photo of a group of midwives on Fish4Hope's Facebook page that she said she felt her calling.

"I reached out to Jim McDaniel of Food For The Poor who put me in touch with Melinda and we created Stella Marina in April 2014," Hanrahan said.

Stella Marina, which means sea star in Latin, was a fitting name since it operates under Nativity's Operation Starfish® program, created in 1998 by the late Fr. Richard Martin and managed by McDaniel.

Stella Marina focuses on six areas of health during childbirth. Stella Marina birthing kits include only disposable items to ensure clean birth practices.

"Operation Starfish® is a beautiful program," Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood said. "Now, the program has expanded to include the Stella Marina mission, which is providing a priceless service. Their birthing kits are making a tremendous impact in places like Shada, by giving newborns a chance at life. We don't hear much about programs like these, but we are extremely thankful to Meg Hanrahan and Melinda Engelbrektsson who have decided to take on this very special area of service for the poor."

Some individual supporters of Stella Marina have traveled to Haiti in the past, but in June, Stella Marina as a group took its first mission trip to the Caribbean nation. Hanrahan, Engelbrektsson and 16 others traveled to Cap Haitien with Food For The Poor.

The group spent two days training more than 100 midwives at St. Anthony Clinic in Prolongé and New Hope Hospital in Plaine du Nord with Dr. Eugene Maklin. Born in Haiti, Dr. Maklin has dedicated the last 12 years fulfilling the medical needs of some of the poorest of the poor in the northern part of the country. The Stella Marina group was humbled by Dr. Maklin and the midwives they met. Church of the Nativity will welcome Dr. Maklin when he visits Nov. 11.

"Going to Haiti confirmed our desire to help the midwives, mothers, and babies of Haiti," Hanrahan said. "The testimony we heard from Madame Bwa and Mama Rose confirmed that we are making a difference through our kits and that Stella Marina needs to expand through the Operation Starfish® program. We did not want to leave Haiti, but are elated knowing that we are going back next year."

While in Haiti, the Stella Marina group also visited several villages built by Nativity, and wants to continue to build its relationship with those communities.

Stella Marina expanded its program in 2016 to include newborn kits, which contain basic newborn items such as onesies, receiving blankets, diapers and pins. Since 2014, Stella Marina volunteers have assembled more than 2,700 birthing kits and more than 1,300 newborn kits. Most of these kits are put together at events, including one on Sept. 9 by the St. Agnes Youth Ministry. Their Mercy Sunday project in Arlington, Va., built 150 newborn and 150 birthing kits.

"Melinda and I are overwhelmed by the generosity of so many who are moved to help the beautiful people of Haiti," Hanrahan said. "We find ourselves repeatedly saying, 'God is good, all the time!'"

Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Wanda Wright

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6079
wandaw@foodforthepoor.com