Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for the ‘Fundraising’ Category

Kay Angel Suffers a Tragic Loss

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Our hearts go out to the children of Kay Angel Orphanage, and the family and friends of Lia van de Donk who passed away last Wednesday evening June 27th from unknown causes. Her funeral will be tomorrow, Wednesday, July 4th.

We are deeply saddened by the news. Lia was an incredible woman whose work to provide a home and education for children in need and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in Jacmel, Haiti is that of an angel on earth.

Thank you Lia for your selfless work. You will be missed.

May the love and support of those who knew Lia help through the days ahead, and the peace that comes from knowing that her incredible work has made a difference in the lives of many children, provide comfort for all who knew her. Her work is eternal, forever true and changeless.

As stated on Kay Angel’s website. “While no one can replace Lia as mother, anchor and advocate to “her” children, the search is on for the rare, right person to step into the role of caretaker,  administrator, construction supervisor, community advocate, manager of visitor and donor relations plus countless other functions.”

Temporary management will be put in place while they search for a successor.

In order for organizations like Kay Angel to continue providing children life saving medication and a loving home, they must be recognized and supported.

If you would like to read more about Lia and Kay Angel Orphanage or donate to the orphanage during this difficult time, please visit their website –

Peace – CWTL



The Children of Kay Angel

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If you missed the previous post, Conversations With Kay Angel, please take a moment to read Conversations With the Living’s introductory piece on Kay Angel, which talks about the work Kay Angel is doing for children in need and infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in Haiti.

We are getting to know a little about the children at Kay Angel prior to our upcoming visit, and we are grateful to Lia, the director of the orphanage, for allowing us to share some of what we are learning about the children she lives and works with everyday. All of the information in the post can also be found on Kay Angel’s website – (or  for Dutch text).

Upon our return to Haiti, the process of meeting the children and telling their story will also give us the opportunity to meet the individuals that contribute to providing the necessary shelter, medication, housing, education and support that gives these children the opportunity to be happy and healthy.

A Day at Kay Angel

Every school day, the children wake at 5.30am to prepare for the day ahead. After bathing, getting dressed for school, and eating breakfast, one of the two nannies administer the anti-retroviral (ARV) medication, which is pre-measured by Lia before being given to the HIV-positive children. The children receive the ARV medication twice daily, and it is very important that it is taken exactly twelve hours apart with food, in order to be affective.

At 6:35am, Lia, her husband or Frantz, the orphanage manager, drive the children to SOS Enfants for the school day, where they study reading, writing, arithmetic, French, Haitian Kreyol, and the arts. Three mornings a week, at 8.30AM, they drive Martin, who is accompanied by one of the nannies due to his severe handicapped (Cerebral Palsy, autistic, microcephelia), to Pazapa, a school for handicapped children, where he receives physiotherapy.

The children are released from school between 11:30am and 1pm, depending on if they attend preschool or elementary school. The older three girls, Youseline, Melinda and Estania (who you will meet shortly) have the opportunity to participate in a dance class after school, twice a week. The older girls all love school, enjoy photography and are very loving and helpful with the younger children.

When the children arrive home from school they have lunch, do their homework assignments, play games, and are administered their medication with dinner, which is served at 6 PM.

If the children need assistance with their homework assignments, Lia, her husband, or one of the nannies with offer help. The children enjoy playing several games, like marry-go-round, where one of the kids will dance in the middle, and Legos, which they received from a Dutch Santa last year. The children also enjoy singing Haitian songs together, while paying musical chairs, using modeling clay, drawing, playing with the dogs, and playing in the front yard with the play tires.

When there is time for additional extracurricular activities, the children enjoy going to the beach, swimming in the sea, and playing in the sand. Sometimes they will even drive up to the mountains and go hiking with Lia. They take cultural, educational day trips to places like Fort Jacques in Kenskoff, and visit family members of the children that they have been able to maintain contact with.

Meet the Children


 10 Years Old                                                                        September 13th, 2007. 6 Years Old.                                                                                                                                                                    

Photos Courtesy of Lia van de Donk

Youseline was born on June 3rd, 2001 in Carrefour, Port au Prince, and raised in Jean Rabel, Lavallee de Jacmel, an area in the mountains above Jacmel. She was raised partly by her mother and partly by her mother’s parents.

When Youseline was 5 years old her mother died of AIDS. Her father had previously passed away from unknown reasons; therefore she was left in the care of her grandparents (her mother’s parents) in the mountains of Lavallée. Unable to continue caring for her, Youseline’s grandparents placed her in the care of Sisters of Charity in Jacmel.  At that time Youseline was very sick and on her way to having AIDS.

Through the CDV/AIDS program at the Hospital St. Michel, Youseline came to Kay Angel on September 13th, 2007 at the age of 6, and became the first child at Kay Angel.

When Youseline arrived she had several sores on her skin and her immune system was very weak.  After completing the last three weeks of tuberculosis treatment, she was immediately enrolled in the AIDS program at Hopital St Michel, where they put her on ARV meds. Within two to three weeks she was already making progress; her skin cleared up, and the sores in and around her mouth disappeared.

Youseline had never attended school, did not know colors, and could not count, read or write. After being home schooled for two and a half years, to bring her up to speed, she began attending second grade, and is now first in her class. She loves school, enjoys learning, and is very smart.

Youseline is a very happy child, loves to sing and dance, and is very social. She has a great laugh and laughs all the time. She feels she is the big sister to the other eleven children


9 Years Old                                                                                       Melinda, January 2008


Photos Courtesy of Lia van de Donk

Like Youseline, Melinda’s mother was HIV-positive and passed away as a result of the virus when Melinda was very young. To make her circumstances even more challenging, Melinda’s father, who had a wandering eye, was unwilling to be tested, insisting it was only Melinda’s mother who had the virus.  These decisions led him to no longer play an active role in Melinda’s life.

Although Melinda’s grandmother made every effort to care for her, she was not able to provide the resources, and Melinda was placed in the care of the Sisters of Charity in Jacmel. After only three months she was sent back to live with her grandmother in Zoranje, northeast of Jacmel.  At that time, Melinda was five and a half years old and Kay Angel was contacted to help provide additional resources.

On December 10, 2007 Melinda was welcomed into Kay Angel. When she arrived, she had molluscum, which is a skin infection, all over her body, but she was immediately put on ARV medication and her skin cleared up quickly.

Melinda had never attended school and now attends school with her two new best friends Youseline and Estania, and is counting, reading, and writing. Last year she finished first grade as first in her class.


11 Years Old                                                                         Estania in her first month at Kay Angel


Photos Courtesy of Lia van de Donk

Estania was born on July 30th, 2000, in Cyvadier, Haiti, east of Jacmel. After her mother passed away from AIDS, Estania was left in the care of her sister. While living with her sister she was taken to Hospital St. Michel, due to issues with her breathing and the coughing up of blood. At the hospital they discovered that Estania was suffering from tuberculosis (TB) and was HIV-positive.

Due to the stigma attached to such a diagnosis, Estania’s sister abandoned her out of fear and lack of understanding about the diseases she was suffering from.

In January 2008, Estania came to live at Kay Angel, where she was placed on oxygen and anti-TB treatment. Due to the severity of her illness, she was quarantined for two months until the treatment was over, and was then able to begin taking ARV medication. Estania responded well to the ARV medication and began to gain weight, but was still regularly struggling with shortness of breath. After visiting a heart specialist in Port-au-Prince, it was discovered that she had an enlarged heart, which is reported to be a common condition amongst children born with HIV. Estania has been given medication to help her heart, and her breathing has improved.

Estania had only minimal schooling before coming to Kay Angel, and since her arrival she now attends school with her friends Youseline and Melinda.


4 Years Old                                                                           Sophie the day we found her


Photos Courtesy of Lia van de Donk

On October 22nd, 2007 Sophie Valentine was abandoned at the steps of Hospital St Michel. The doctors at the hospital estimated that she was born that same day, one month pre-mature, from a mother who was HIV-positive, since she tested HIV- positive. She was taken in by Lia and became the fourth child to become a part of the Kay Angel family.

Sophie was put on oxygen and IV fluids and spent the first two weeks in an incubator. Sophie was also immediately put on prophylaxes medication for her HIV status. Sophie was tested periodically in order to follow her HIV status. Her very last test, at 18 months old, came back negative. Today, Sophie is HIV negative.

Like Youseline, Melinda and Estania, Sophie is happy and in good health. Since their arrival ay Kay Angel they have been provided both physical and emotional support, helping them deal with their illnesses, as well as the emotional scars that come from their personal struggles.  Their lives have drastically changed for the better, and although each of the girls stories are unique, they are all too common in Haiti, where approximately 150,000 children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS and there were as many as 380,000 orphans before the January 2010 earthquake.

It is clear that lives are improved and saved when there is access to necessary resources, but these resources do not come easy to the individuals and organizations providing the support. Additionally, the causes of HIV infection in children point to some of the major issues surrounding HIV in Haiti; issues like education, prevention, access, stigma and overall support available to at-risk and infected individuals.

All of these young girls were infected with HIV through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), also known as vertical transmission, which remains a significant mode of transmission in Haiti. The historical rate of mother-to-child transmission in Haiti is 27% (UNAIDS, 2004), yet programs designed to reduce the rate of MTCT have proven to be effective and are feasible in developing nations such as Haiti. In order to affectively reduce HIV infection and MTCT there needs to be an emphasis on education, testing, early diagnosis, and overall access and services to women throughout Haiti. Additionally, the deep-rooted stigma attached to the virus that often leads to at-risk individuals going undiagnosed and passing the virus onto their spouse or child must be addressed.

Conversations With the Living is telling the story of Kay Angel and the children there, because they are stories of hope existent within the harsh reality of child orphans in Haiti. We must shed light on the good work being done and what is working, as well as bring and keep attention on the work that still needs to be done. In order for organizations like Kay Angel to continue providing children life saving medication and a loving home, they must be recognized and supported.

If the work being done by Kay Angel were adopted and expanded upon, the impact would be an amazing benefit to Haiti as a whole, and bridge the gap between the children affected and infected with HIV and the communities in which they live.

We will continue to keep you posted on the documentary’s progress on our production blog and urge you to visit ad subscribe to Kay Angel’s blog to read more about the amazing work they are doing. You can find their blog and more information at

Special thanks to Lia van de Donk for taking the time to provide photos and written content to the above post and for allowing us to share the incredible work of Kay Angel with you.

Thank you for your continued support.

– The Conversations With the Living team

CWTL Crew Q&A: Gregory Cassagnol on HIV/AIDS in Haiti

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What is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Haiti?
One in twenty Haitians in Haiti is infected with HIV/AIDS. That’s a startling statistic for a developed country in the Western Hemisphere.
What is the prognosis for these HIV positive orphans?
The prognosis is grim for many of the HIV + orphans in Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, the situation has become signifigantly worse. It’s imperative that something is done before Haiti loses a generation of children to HIV/AIDS.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm


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Conversations With the Living recently made contact with Lia Van de Donk, the director of Kay Angel orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti, which provides a home, education and support for children in need and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

After a very positive conversation with Lia regarding her work at Kay Angel and the mission and purpose of our film, it was clear that Kay Angel’s everyday work to provide HIV-positive and orphaned children in need, access to life saving medication, housing, education and support aligned with the mission of Conversations With the Living and the message of our film.

We have been in contact with Lia since our first discussion in order to stay updated on the progress at Kay Angel, as well as to coordinate a visit upon our return to Haiti, in order to document the incredible work being done to improve the lives of these children.

We are inspired by the work of Kay Angel and their willingness to take on the challenge of caring for this often forgotten demographic, and the Conversations With the Living team wants to introduce those who support this project and the work being done to help children affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS to Kay Angel.

The Story of Kay Angel

Kay Angel, Creole for Angel House, opened its doors in 2007 and is currently home to 12 children; 5 are HIV+ and all are lucky to be alive.

Their first home was rented for one year in Jacmel before they moved to St. Helene, another neighborhood in Jacmel. In St. Helene the children of school age attended either the local kindergarten, a school for the handicapped or were taught by a private teacher at the orphanage. When the January 12th earthquake destroyed the children’s schools and the orphanage, Lia and the children lived in the streets for about 2 weeks, and then in tents for 15 months.  On April 1st of this year Kay Angel was able to rent a temporary home in Zorange for 1 year, while construction of their permanent home is being completed.

Today, they are in the process of building their permanent home on a piece of land named Sacrifice, which they were able to buy this past year with money raised through individual donations from family and friends and outreach on their two dedicated blogs in the United States and Holland, Lia’s native country.

We emphasize home, because Lia, who lives with the children along with her husband, makes sure that the daily needs of the children are met and that a family environment is provided, where the children are loved, accepted and supported. Along with a small local staff, they make sure that the children are fed, attend school and that their medications are measured and administered twice a day.

The children that are HIV-positive are in the Aids program of USAID at the local hospital St. Michel, which is a free program that includes a monthly examination by the doctor, Dr Raphael, and a monthly supply of ARV meds. When asked about how their home manages to function and provide resources year round, Lia shared that aside from individual donations, organizations like USAID have been instrumental in providing the children’s health care needs. Without this program and the free medical supplies that it donates, it would be extremely difficult to care for the children that are HIV+, due to the tremendous expense of ARV medication. Additionally, Kay Angel has its own paid Haitian pediatrician on staff that visits Kay Angel once a month to consult the children, and subscribe additional medication or vitamin and protein supplements as needed, which are paid for by Kay Angel.

Some help in the form of rice, cooking oil and beans comes monthly from the World Food Programme (WFP), and any additional nutritional needs are met through purchases from local markets and vendors.

After a long struggle to find adequate schools for the children, especially those that are HIV-positive, Lia was able to enroll the children in SOS Enfants in Cyvadier, with the exception of one child who attends PAZAPA, a school for handicapped and special needs children located in town. The children have adjusted extraordinarily well to the school environment and have received good marks. The children’s performance in school has been a great accomplishment and source of excitement, due to the fact that prior to coming to Kay Angel, the children had not been afforded the opportunity to attend school.

The majority of education in Haiti is privatized, therefore families or organizations supporting children, must pay to send their children to school. With 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, providing children with an education often means the family goes without other basic necessities or the children are simply not educated.

The children living at Kay Angel are the fortunate. The children wake up everyday in a loving environment, where their mental and physical well-being are the priority, and the benefits of this environment provide an example of what is possible if people focus on the needs in the communities they serve and advocate for substantial change and real solutions.

There were an estimated 380,000 orphans before the earthquake, as many as 225,000 children living as retaveks (child slaves), and approximately 150,000 orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Kay Angel works with these children, not only because there is a need, but also because they have seen through their own work that children provided the proper resources and support can live happy and healthy lives. The children they care for are proof-positive of what is possible given compassion and cooperation efforts, and they are an example of what is working in Haiti.

Both Kay Angel and Conversations With the Living are focused on HIV-positive orphans and the importance of recognizing the effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication required to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities. Kay Angel is a place where the methods used on the ground in Haiti and within the Haitian community shed light on the small, yet existing network of people dedicated to creating a better life and future for Haiti and her children.

While, we prepare to return to Haiti, Lia and her staff work daily, around the clock, juggling time taking care of the children’s needs and the construction of the new orphanage. We look forward to sharing their continued progress with you and to introducing you to some of the amazing children at Kay Angel.

– Leigh E. Carlson

CWTL Crew Q&A: Gregory Cassagnol on why Haiti is important

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Why is Haiti important?
Haiti is important because it’s history, from it’s days as the most profitable of the French colonies in the New World, to it’s historic slave rebellion that birthed a sovereign nation in 1804, on through its current state post the 2010 earthquake; reflects the indomidable will of a people fighting social ills and constant tumult all while mantaining a strong sense of humanity and culture.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

October 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm

CWTL Crew Q&A: Gregory Cassagnol on the challenges of fundraising for a documentary

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How have you raised funds? Describe your methods and why you chose that methodology.
Our team has self financed production and has raised funds through local fundraising initiatives.
Why Indie Go Go?
Indie Go Go provides the platform for us to reach the individuals that care about stories like ours and see the value of producing this type of dialogue on the broadest stage possible. We need forward thinking and socially responsible people to support us. Indie Go Go helps us reach that group.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

October 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm

CWTL Crew Q&A: Gregory Cassagnol on producing a documentary in Haiti

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What are some of the difficulties that you’ve faced during production?
I think the biggest obstacle that we’ve faced so far is managing the logistics of production within the many layers of Administration within the Haitian government that a group like ours must maneuver while attempting to tell our story. It’s been a challenge and will continue to be when dealing with such sensitive subject matter.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

October 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm