Many of us remember the deep horror and fear, we felt as we watched the film, Sofie’s Choice. How could any parent choose between two children. How could they deicide who might better survive with less, who was stronger, who could get along with less protection in the care of others?
Here in Haiti, I have watched the struggle of parents who are faced with very little resources, make difficult choices about their children. By the time, they have found their way to our door, their child is usually very weak and near to death. They are without any resources. They know that in order for their children to survive they must feed themselves as well.
The gardener must decide to leave her 12 and 14 children in an unsafe house so that she can protect her daughter who had a baby as a result of sexual abuse. She does not want to leave the other children unprotected but she must choose and hope that they will survive while she tends to her other daughter and the baby. It is a frightening choice. If she leaves the 12 and 14 year old they will be fed and sent to school but are vulnerable to abuse.
A fathers whose wife died “ on the road’ must decide what to do with his new baby who came to us after only drinking sugar water for 14 days. He has two other children and they have very little food or housing either. If he puts the baby in an orphanage he can possibly find work. We drive him to the orphanage where he clings to his baby and says, after the visit, he can not leave her. We give him some work and try to get the older children in school. We give the baby new clothes and formula. He is a tall man who carries his little baby in a sling and walks far with the other two children just to have a meal at the center. He says maybe he should put the baby at the orphanage for a few months., after all. He has to choose between the baby and the older children.
A father’s wife dies after having a c-section. I am told she was having twins and after the surgery she fell off the bed and had complications. Then on the way home on a motorcycle, suddenly died. The father who had loved his wife dearly, was left with two newborn babies and very few resources. We give him clothes and formula and he asks if we can keep the babies. He loves these babies but he can not care for them. He struggles with the choices before him.
A mother who lives near by has four children. Her husband died a few months ago and she cares for an elderly mother who can not walk. They live in a one room house with no water or electricity of any kind. Last week she brought me her two year old who was in the grips of severe starvation and malnutrition. The baby I delivered was breastfed and is thriving. The others ate what they could but this baby girl somehow did not manage to get what little share their was . Without knowing, the mother was forced to choose the stronger children over this one who did not fight for her share. By the time we saw her she was so swollen, her skin was splitting open. She could no longer stand and would not eat. We drove her to the hospital and did what we could.
People ask me how it is that so many children under five could possibly die. I see that with so few resources, barriers of transportation and few medical facilities close by, that there is a hopelessness and a big family must, n some way, let some children go. They go to live with other people or to an orphanage that may have few resources or they just don’t seek medical help before it is too late.
It is cooler in Haiti now. The rains come often and there are often clouds in the sky at sunrise. By afternoon, however, it warms out and we enjoy day after day of throw off your sweater delicious afternoons.
It is also true that I meet with people each day who are willing and trying to help. There are the doctors in the pediatric wing of the hospital who take the baby who is starving. There is the local minister who agrees to be a sponsor through World Vision of the two older children. There is the volunteer who says she’ll send me money for rice and beans for the father. There are the people who gave me money for emergencies. There is MedicaMumba who gives nutritious peanut butter raised by local farmers to malnourished children. I am thinking soon someone will come and help me fix up a house for the gardener and her children. There is the orphanage, Children of the Promise, who works hard to reunite families. There are people building latrines and putting in pumps.
Outside on the road, a local artist paints a beautiful and educational mural about clean water on our wall. Everywhere there are hard stories and everywhere there is goodness and hope.
Sometimes we are faced with impossible choices and sometimes we are simply faced with the choice to look in the direction where the goodness is coming so we too have the strength and nourishment to care for others.