This is an extract from the website for the organisation in South America where Ange is working. I wanted to stop reading at a certain point, not having had a good week already, but it is something all of us living in Australia need to accept; we are lucky. Visit the site on the link above.
In the beginning week of our second cycle of the program, Jacks (my assistant) and myself are standing talking to the director about classes when a father of some of our students walks in. We overhear him talking about how his children wouldn’t be able to attend class this week because his other son, 1 year and 11 months, was in the hospital and was really sick. His child in grade two therefore had to stay home and take care of the other little ones ( there are 8). Having heard this and knowing the situation that people in this very poor community face, we figured that perhaps we may be able to help. We asked the man what was wrong and he proceeded to tell us that his child was very sick because of malnutrition. We offered to go to the hospital and check out the situation to see what we could do. We were in no way prepared for what we were going to see. We knew the child was sick, but we didn’t realize just how sick he was. We arrived at the hospital and had to go through the rigamarole of getting past the armed security guards seeing how it wasn’t exactly visiting hours yet. Of course I had to be the pushy north american gringa to get by. Jacks and I are walking down the hallway, our stomachs becoming uneasy at the sight of all the sick little children in barren beds to the left and right of us. After having popped our heads in and out of the rooms we finally found whom we were looking for. We entered the room, the mother’s back is towards us, and she is cradling her child, she turns her head to talk with us from the door. We walk towards her to get a closer look at the child, and as we stood before him Jacks and I both looked at each other truing to control our utter shock and disbelief. You know, I had seen it on t.v. on those world vision programs, I had seen it in pictures, and I had taught about it in the classroom, but in no way did that prepare me for such a sight. Right in front of my eyes there was this poor child, his belly tremendously swollen and rock hard, his sunken eyes barely responding, and his pencil thin neck struggling to sustain the weight of his head. I knelt down to speak to the child pretending as if he were any other, and it was so sad because I knew that he was only half there, half alive, hardly breathing, barely moving, and fighting the death that seemed to want to take him.
I touched his little feet, his belly, his face. All I wanted to do was cry, Jacks and I glance at each other giving the old ‘you better not cry’ look, we didn’t need to make the situation any worse than it was. But still we had hope. I sent Jacks to chase down the doctors to find out what exactly the kid had other than the obvious starvation problem, and she came back with a list of 7 other problems that required about 8 different medications. The doctors said that with the medication, the child should slowly recuperate in about 1 to 2 months. Just then the father came in greeting and thanking us for coming. He had been out all morning trying to drum up enough money between neighbours and family to be able to afford just the medication for that day. We agreed that we would take care of the medication for the following days, weeks or months if needed be. However the doctor needed to check the baby each day in order to determine the next days perscription. So we decided to come back in the morning to check on the baby and then get the daily meds. As we leave the hospital room assuring the parents that we were going to do whatever we could, we reach the hallway and both burst into tears, while debriefing the situation. Later that night I couldn’t help but talk about it with my friends and volunteers.
I proposed an open invitation to those who wanted to help to show up at the hospital the next morning. To my pleasant surprise the next morning several friends showed up; a pre-med student, a human rights activist, a psychologist, my volunteers and some close friends. Once again, trying to get through the gates, the armed guard asks us who we are here to see. We give him the name, and he tells us that the baby has died. We stand in shock…the doctors had just told us that with the right meds the baby would recover in one to two months…he tells us that we can probably find the parents in the emergency ward. We frantically go looking for them. First we see the mother, who immediately starts crying upon seeing us, (obviously poor people don’t have the luxury of having counselling available to them let alone any kind of humane attention that greiving parents deserve). As I comfort her she tells me that her baby is dead. Then the father comes out wailing, I hold him in my arms just letting him cry and cry and cry. I felt really bad and other than just being there, there wasn’t really anything I could do or say to make them feel better. Everyone is silently standing around us watching the entire scene. Once things calmed down a bit, they tell us that if the parents are to reclaim the body that they must pay 126 soles which for them might as well have been a million dollars, because that is like an impossible feat of saving for a lifetime. If their child has died due to starvation, it’s because for one reason or another they simply don’t have any money, so how the hell were they supposed to come up with 126 soles (about $40) on the spot. The reality is this, if you don’t have money and your child is sick, it will die. The reality is that even if the constitution says that poor people who are unable to pay for healthcare shall receive the same medical attention as the rich, the government doesn’t have the budget to support it. While it is true that this family and others like it could have received some kind of financial assistance, by the time they went through the red tape and proper channels, it is just too late. This is the reality for third world people. After lots of arguing about how unjust it was to ask such an amount from such poor people, we decided to just pay the bill so that these people could take their child home to bury him. Had we not paid the bill along with the mountain of other bills, it could have been ages before they gave them the body.
After about half a day, and seven people working on this case, we were sent round back to collect the body from the morgue. Jacks went in with the parents while I waited outside with the grandfather and the others who were still around. I can’t begin to express the horror that happened next. It is a sight I will never ever forget. Out came the father crying uncontrollably holding his baby in a blood soaked blanket, as he uncovers him, to our terror we see this little baby who was alive yesterday, with dried blood on his face, and his eyes and mouth wide open. We were all frozen with horror!!! I’m standing there with the father in my arms and the baby in his. We are all freaking out by this point…the hospital just gave the baby to them like a useless piece of garbage, they didn’t clean him up or shut his eyes or mouth, let alone provide a clean sheet for the baby, this is the treatment that poor people get, it is simply cruel and inhumane! So here we are standing on the street with this dead child, we hail a cab down so that they can take their baby home. Had we not shown up, they would have had to take a crowded combi (bus) because to pay for a cab would have been a weeks savings which they did not have. The father hugs me once more thanking us endlessly.
Standing in shock, we begin comforting each other.
The next day we visit their house, bringing them a supply of food, pay our respects to the family and say goodbye to the sweet innocent child that had been taken from them. His name was Angel and he was 1 year and 11 months old.
It is a sad story that happens several times a day. We kept asking ourselves, in a world of plenty why are more than half the worlds children dying of starvation. The distribution of wealth is UNJUST!!!! We can’t continue living our luxurious lifestyles in the first world while our brothers and sisters are starving in the third world.
With the help of my friend Marita who is a human rights activist, Julio a politically active doctor and the media, we are filing a formal complaint against the hospital for its inefficiency and inhumane treatment towards poor people. Someone should be held responsible for the trauma that was incurred from their negligence. This is just one case that we happened to stumble upon, how many thousands more are there?!