will the starving children come out and play?

I saw a starving child today.

I know the children here are malnourished, its as plain as day. But I hardly ever see a child that I know will not live to see adulthood. I’ve been told they exist, that the families hide them. And if I’m lucky, if you can call it that, I’ll discover one. As I walked from house to house, inspecting Guinea Worm filters, he poked his head out from behind a door. He stepped outside long enough for me to get a glimpse of his frail muscle-less frame. His ribs were protruding from his body and his thin arms and legs looked as if they might snap at any given moment.

His brothers and sisters, all healthy, played in the sun as he watched. Were they hiding him? Or was he just too weak to play? I don’t know, either is plausible. I looked away embarrassed, as if I wasn’t supposed to see. I uncovered a secret I didn’t want to know. It’s not a matter of ignorant bliss, no, not at all. It’s the fact that you can’t look a child like that in the face and do nothing.

I could take him home and feed him myself, but what would that help? I can’t save them all, and it would do nothing in terms of behavior change. I could tell the mother what she already knows. Her child is very sick and needs special care. I could plead with her to take him to the clinic and feed him a protein enriched diet that she cannot afford. I could spend my life educating mothers on nutrition. And then their children would live. All of them. Each family, with the three wives, each with their own set of numerous children. They count on a few not making it past much of their childhood. Quiet frankly, they can’t afford for all of their children to live. If I see to it that they do, overpopulation will bring its own set of problems, socially, economically, the list could go on. So what good is keeping these children alive if family planning is not taking place? Ok then, I’ll have to educate them on the importance of family planning. Then you could be just like us. Small, educated and healthy families. 

Wouldn’t that be for the best? Isn’t that what you want? I don’t think I can successfully convince a culture and place that is not my own to change a way of life that they have been living for hundreds of years.

Is it better just to leave them be?

What am I doing here?

I’m not supposed to see this.

This has all raced through my mind before the boy slips back into the dark room he came from. This is what goes on inside my head when I see a dying emaciated child. It’s the worst kind of hopelessness a development worker can feel. And the irony of it all is that it’s the first time I have seen this child. I have been living in this community for all these months and he has been out of my sight the whole time.

The child lives in the compound next to my own.


Sarah said…
Maria- this is such a powerful blog entry. I love the way you write- it makes me feel like I am there experiencing things right next to you. Though days like that are no doubt frustrating, you can count on the fact that you have so many people praying for you, and your community daily. I love you & miss you!

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