Recently I had a father come to COTP with his malnourished 9 month old son. He sat in our pharmacy for about 2 hours as I talked to him, learning about his story, hearing his heartbreak, and deciding if we were able to help him care for his baby boy.
Wilkenly's Mom had died when he was only a month old leaving his father, who has no other family to help, alone to care for such a fragile little baby. Dad asked me if I would admit the baby. This is always a hard decision to make and one I don't take lightly. If there is any way I can keep a family together I will do what it takes to ensure that we help make that happen. Wilkenly clearly met the protocols to start Medika Mamba (MM) as he was severely malnourished. Even though he was tiny, I knew his father had cared for him for the past eight months on his own, so I was hoping that if we just gave him some assistance, helped his child become healthier, that Dad would realize he was able to care for this child and we wouldn't have to separate them.
I decided we would admit him in to the MM program. Even after I explained this program, Dad asked again if I would keep the baby. For some reason I couldn't do it. I wanted this family to stay together. However the more I talked to them, the more I began to wonder if it was the right decision. I left the pharmacy and talked through the situation with two other people to see if I was making the right call.
We decided that we should admit him to the MM program and then when he came back in a week for more MM, I could reevaluate the situation. If the child got better, even just slightly, maybe it would give the Dad a chance to see that he was capable for caring for his beautiful son. If he got worse, then I could easily admit him at that time. Even though he was tiny, it wasn't an immediate life or death decision. I often have families come back once or twice before I admit a child to ensure that I have all the facts staright and that I'm making the right decision. It allows the family time to truly think about their options rather than to make a rash decision out of fear.
I sent Wilkenly away that day with a little bit of MM and gave him an appointment to come back in one week. I do this all the time and normally have no problem with it, however this time it was different. I walked in Nicks office later that day and told him I didn't know if I'd made the right decision. I kept telling myself over and over "he'll be back in a week. If he's not improving, if Dad still wants him admitted, you can do it then. He'll be fine for a week." But I couldn't get him off my mind. I kept thinking about him, worrying about him, and praying he'd come back for his check up. I desperately awaited Thursday.
Thursday came, but Wilkenly did not. I watched the gate all morning, no Wilkenly. Finally by noon I couldn't handle it anymore. I gave his phone number to Rosaline and asked her to call and verify that he was coming. She got ahold of the Dad who told her he didn't have the money (less than $1 US) to come out that day. We ensured him we would pay for it and that we just really wanted to see them both. His response was that he didn't have time to bathe his son that day and that he thought he could come out the next day. I told Rosaline that I was afraid if he didn't come out Wilkenly would die. She agreed.
Friday came and went. No Wilkenly. We called Dad. No response. Another week came and went, still no Wilkenly. We called several times but never reached anyone. Finally Rosaline got ahold of the neighbor that had come out with them that day. She gave Rosaline their address and she went to their house to check on the baby. Neither Dad or Wilkenly were there. Rosaline left a message with the neighbor saying that we would admit the baby and that we really wanted to help them out. No response.
Another two weeks went by. Rosaline and I agreed that we had done all we could and now just had to wait for the Dad to accept our help.
Yesterday the neighbor came by with another child. I asked her how Wilkenly was doing and she let me know that he had passed away.
My heart sunk. Instantly the "What If's" went through my head. What if I had admitted him that day. Would he still be alive? What if I would have simply told the Dad we would continue to discuss it the following week rather than only thinking that in my head? What if I had done more?
I know I can't help every child in Haiti, but what about this one, this little guy that I held in my arms for a few minutes? This little one that I made and fed a bottle to? This little one that I packed a small bag of food for and sent out the gate? What about Wilkenly?
Most of the time when we choose not to admit children, they leave and I never hear from them again. I don't know what the rest of their story looks like. I don't know if they flourish in their families care, if they become sick, if they die, or if they go off to live with another family member. I never hear. Sometimes I think it's best that we don't hear. This job is incredibly difficult and if we were to hear of kids we turn away getting sick, it's inevitable to wonder if it was some how our fault.
I fully know Wilkenly's death is not my fault and I don't blame myself for a second for it. Maybe we didn't give him the help his father had originally asked for, but we did offer him help that has been proven thousands of times to literally save lives of children just like him.
At the same time, I also don't blame his father. I can't even pretend to imagine what it must be like to live in his shoes. To have your wife pass away (likely from something preventable) and leave you to care for your one month old baby by yourself. To not have your parents or siblings there to help you with the baby because they all died in the earth quake, from malaria, and other minuscule things. I have no idea what it would be like to not have a job and literally have no way to feed your son. I can't imagine for a second what it would be like to watch your only son, your only living family member, slowly die of starvation and to be able to do NOTHING for him. He reached out, he asked for help and wasn't given what he had hoped for. He was tired, worn out from a life time of suffering, perhaps facing depression and post tramatic stress disorder. He had no one to turn to, no one to encourage him that he could do it, to tell him he was a good father, a good person. I don't blame him for a second.
The systematic problems that Haiti faces are so deep and complex that I still can't even process them after 19 months of living here. Why are so many Moms dying during child birth? Why are so many babies dying before they reach 5 years of age? How come there are literally no jobs available any where in Northern Haiti? Why are there no decent health care options? Why aren't more people doing something about all of this. Where do I fit in, how do I help, how do I make the most effective changes in this world I live in? There are so many questions that I just don't have answers to.
I want to save lives. I want to do everything I can to keep families together. I want to go visit our children who have been reunited and hear something other than, "No they haven't eaten today." I want to help change this broken world that we live in. I don't want these children that come into my path to suffer. I don't want them to go a day without eating. I don't want them to die.
More and more I'm learning that I can't do this on my own. It's not up to me to save Wilkenly's life or any other baby for that matter. I'm here to be God's hands and feet. I'm here to help serve his people, his children. Yes some of these children are going to suffer. They're going to be malnourished and often go days with out eating. And some are even going to die. I don't understand it. I hate it. But it's God's plan. Theres a reason why Wilkenly died. Theres a reason why Luc passed away. Theres a reason why Marie died in my arms. Theres a reason why I buried Olivenson, Annella, Sabyna, Jossette, Deborah, and many many more. I have no idea what these reasons are. I have no idea what we are all supposed to be learning from this, but I have faith that there is a reason. I have faith that they are all safely nestled in God's arms and that some day I will see each and every one of my babies again.
I don't know what the future looks like for Haiti. I don't know what the future looks like for any of the babies in our care or various programs. And I especially don't know what the future looks like for me. But I continue on each day knowing that the future isn't up to me and that there is someone much greater in charge of it all. This life doesn't make sense, but it's not up to me to figure out. My responsibility is to love on the children and families that pass through our gates. To make them feel heard, loved, and cared for. Sometimes I'll be able to offer help, but often I won't.
Please continue to pray for all of our Staff members as we take on the incredibly difficult job of caring for these 61 beautiful children.
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