Life & Love with Jennifer Douma

Life & Love with Jennifer Douma

Hi, I’m Jenn. owner of Outpour Fairtrade Boutique,  and founder of the nonprofit Operation: Outpour. I’m a wife,  mom, foster mom, outspoken introvert and self proclaimed hot mess just trying to make a difference.

A real struggle every day

I recently returned from another trip to Haiti. Every trip is hard, due to the extreme amount of poverty, hunger and sickness, but this one in particular seemed even harder. I led a medical team of nine down to Mirebalais Haiti for a week-long medical clinic to be held at the school our non-profit had opened this past fall.

I stood by and watched as Doctors and nurses saw everything from scabies and fungal infections to pneumonia and lacerations.
Two little girls in particular grabbed my attention. The help they needed to receive would have been an easy fix here in the states, but our team wasn’t equipped to help. The first little girl, five years old, was born with hydrocephalus and needed a shunt put in. She was in extreme discomfort due to the fluid putting pressure on her brain, she kept saying “her head hurt”.
The second little girl, six years old, had been born with a seizure disorder and simply needed to be put on a regular dose of seizure meds. Our Dr’s did their best to plan ahead for all the different kind of infections they could potentially see and help. Seizure medicine was not on the list.
Before we stepped on the plane to return home, I received word the both of these little girls passed away.
My heart shattered in a million pieces.
A surgeon, who was a part of our team, was planning on making the connections back home to be able to bring the little girl with hydrocephalus to the states for her procedure. It was too late.
Why am I sharing these stories with you?
As I write this article, we are in the middle of a quarantine here in the states. Shelves are bare, daily necessities are running out, hospitals are at capacity, schools and businesses are shut down. Definitely uncertain times, that are bringing fear to many. Now, take those same thoughts about what I just shared, and place yourself in a place without running water. Without electricity. Without food pantries or government assistance. Imagine never having been able to send your child to school or having any access to medical care. Having no “rainy day” funds for the unknown.
You guys, this is the very real struggle every day for millions of people. People like you and like me, who just want to provide and care for their families.
I’m certain we will bounce back from this. Shelves will once again be stocked and schools will be opened. My hope is that when that happens we don’t forget the most vulnerable in this world. My hope is that by experiencing this fear and uncertainties, our compassion for humanity and the least of these, will grow greater than ever before.

                         _____________________________________
Why bother?

This article originally appeared in the March 12th, 2020 issue of The Smart Reader.

We all have basic needs. Food, water, shelter and access to proper healthcare. When these basic needs are not met on a regular basis, one is not able to move forward in life to better themselves through education and employment. That just doesn’t seem fair, does it? This keeps a peron trapped in the cycle of poverty, and makes them especially susceptible to being trafficked through bonded labor or as a sex slave.

We all have the ability to make our voice be heard. We all have the ability to take steps toward making this world a better place. Sometimes we may not know where or how to start, or even question if it matters at all. I’m just one person.

So why bother? Your small purchase of fairtrade coffee, jewelry or artwork can’t possibly change the world. You would be right. However, when your purchase combines with my purchase, and that combines with our neighbors purchase- we see the tide change. We see moms and dads being able to feed their children, have access to clean water and send them to school. Don’t ever think that your part is too small to matter.

Fairtrade is a system focused on alleviating global poverty, and promoting sustainability through ethical global trade. It respects and appreciates the hard work of people. It provides a living wage for marginalized producers. Fairtrade is anti-slavery and anti-child labor, it supports conservation of our environment, and empoweres woman and minorities.

Every time we spend our hard earned dollars we are casting a vote as to what kind of world we want to live in. What kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. As I write this column, I am back in Haiti once again, looking at the poverty first hand. The needs are endless, and always seem overwhelming. I can choose to say why bother, because the need is too great, or I can choose to help the one that’s right in front of me. That is a decision that is up to each of us. Continue to bother.

It’s worth it. I promise.

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Work in Progress

This article originally appeared in the February 27, 2020 issue of The Smart Reader.

My first encounter with extreme poverty was like an unforgetable punch in the gut.

The kind you would never have seen coming.  The smells. The sights. The panic feeling that this must be a bad dream, a nightmare. The kind of things you can’t unsee.

I remember visiting an orphanage and rocking a baby girl named Esther that had fleas jumping off of her… actually Esther was two years old, but she was the size of a six month old due to lack of proper nutrition.  She had been abandoned in a  field when she was three months old and brought to this orphanage who did the best they could with the very limited resources they had.

That was my first taste of being truely angered by injustice.  It was the beginning of an awakening for me to do something. Anything.  Sitting idle day in and day out, caaught up in my “first world problems”,  you know, complaining about leftovers, laundry and checking my childs homework for the 10th time, were no longer going to sufice.

I began to research things like , the orphan crisis (that’s a whole other story) , the millions of people who dont have access to clean water, food, medical care or education.  The more i read, the more I broke into a hundred pieces feeling helpless.  What was I supposed to do?   A stay at home mom from Wisconsin.

After a ton of trial and error, and talking to people much wiser than myself, I came to this conclusion.  Education and job creation will break the cycle of poverty.

Myself and two partners decided to open a fairtrade boutique in Kenosha this past fall as one way to make a difference.  Fairtrade is so simple, yet so profound.  Wait for it… It’s the thought that human beings deserve to be treated fairly for the work they do and the products they make.  Plain and simple.  Not to buy their third vacation home or the latest Iphone, but do things like feed their children and send them to school so they can learn to read and write.

Mind blown?  I know mine sure was when I realized the purchasing power that I possessed being born into one of the richest countries in the world.  I became keenly aware of Maya Angelou’s famous quote “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.”

I’m choosing to do better.  I think we can all choose to do better, no matter how big or how small.  I’m choosing to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

I invite you to join me.