Sick Children

15 May

What do you do when you see a child so sick she cannot walk, who lives in filth with flies crawling over her, who is malnourished and dirty and crying?  When I was walking around an IDP camp the other day I was approached by a woman who kept telling me her child was sick in the head, and waved me over to her tent to show me.  Lying on the ground inside was a very young girl with an enormously swollen head.  Not being able to communicate, I simply stared in shock and empathy and gave the woman a hug.  I later returned with a translator to figure out more details about the girl and see how I could help.

I learned that while she was not born like this, it started when she was around 3 months old and has steadily worsened since.  People have tried to help her and she has even been to see doctors but nobody seems to be able to do anything to cure her.  The women said one doctor told her she had to go to the Dominican Republic for an operation and yet, because she didn’t have a passport, she was unable to make the trip.  I have spoken with the project coordinators at my organization and they are unable to help because it is a blanket policy of theirs not to help individual people, and the sad truth is that there are just too many people to help here.  Yet it is difficult to look this little girl’s eyes and not try to do everything in your power to help her.

She was not the only sick child in the camp, and in fact there were several other very sick babies I saw that day, but she moved me in some deep and powerful way I cannot explain.  I am reading Mountains Beyond Mountains right now, which is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his time in Haiti, and it is truly an inspiring book.  There is a section in the book where he discusses the first time he realized he could never really “leave” Haiti.  He had befriended a young doctor who was volunteering in Haiti for a year and was eager to return home to his life in America.  When Dr. Farmer asked him how he felt about leaving he replied: “I am an American, and I am ready to go back to my country.”  Dr. Farmer couldn’t get that comment out of his head, and it dawned on him that he could never really return to his own country after what he had witnessed in Haiti.

I often have a hard time adjusting when I return from one of my journeys, and America tends to give me panic attacks and culture shock in a plethora of ways as soon as I step off the plane and into the clean and polished and perfect world I came from.  But if I stick around long enough, sometimes I forget just how privileged I am to be born in such a rich and powerful country.  I think I am caught somewhere in between the two extremes of Dr. Farmer and his young friend.  I love my country, and I love coming home to my friends and family, but I also find it impossible to forget what I have seen and to forget about a sick child laying under a tarp in Haiti.

Sometimes I ask myself questions like- what if we all spent a little less money? What if every person in my country bought one less pair of shoes or one less bag of groceries or drank one less beer?  What if all of us made a conscious effort to give just a little of what we have to those who have nothing?  Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering if I can ever return to a normal life after everything that I’ve seen in Haiti.


One Response to “Sick Children”

  1. Alexandra May 17, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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