It was my first time to the place since it had started up.
Just being there caused a small lump to grow in my throat. I didn’t actually break into tears, but if I would have let myself, I could have.
I KNOW personally how much a place like this is needed.
Even though I don’t round on pediatrics every day like Olen does, I see the need. I round from time to time on peds, and I live here. It’s easy to see that there is a need.
It is everywhere.
What obesity is to the US children, malnutrition is to Chadian children. It’s just more acutely lethal.
It starts at birth. I’m sure you’ve read before on our blogs that it’s the norm for families to give their new baby boy or girl water instead of breast milk or formula. Even if the mom doesn’t want to, she is a nobody. If the mother in law says to give it, it’s done. Sealed. The kid doesn’t have a chance to get away from malnutrition from day one.
It struggles. It grows. Somehow.
There are so many barriers to healthy living here.
Then there are amebas and parasites of all kinds here. The vicious cycle grows. Worms that crawl up into your feet and penetrate throughout your body. Malaria. Blood flukes.
There are social injustices here. A little boy’s mother got into a fight with the new wife. The husband is showing favoritism to his second wife. Mom gets mad and refuses to feed the kid. Nobody feeds him anything nutritious...for 12 years. He’s doesn’t grow. He’s never walked.
There IS NO FAMINE HERE. But still, we have malnutrition.
Wendy saw the need. Gary and Wendy have opened a place for mothers and children to go.
A second chance.
If these children were to continue on the same path, they would die....eventually. Not an easy quick death. A slow, painful death. Drug out over many months and years. Until eventually they would get malaria or diarrhea and not have the force to fight off the infection. They would come to the hospital. But it would be too difficult in this life. The medicines only go so far when you don’t have a reservoir.
Wendy and Gary have been in Chad for 4 years. Before that was Cameroon and Guyana. Wendy and Gary are some of our closest friends here and live 2 km’s away. Wendy and I actually graduated from the same high school academy in the same class! Go Ozark! Um, we won’t mention the year.
Gary and Wendy are both registered nurses. And even though they both could fly a plane, Gary is the one with the license. He’s also the one I would trust to take apart and put back together any plane around.
Bronwyn, Carlie, and Athens are 3 volunteers who are helping run the place. Bronwyn has been here a year and decided to stay longterm. She’s the one with the cool British accent who had to get shaving her head off of her bucket list. Carlie and Athens have been here 2 months and are registered nurses, taking a year out to come bask in the sun....hardly. When they are not working at Wendy’s new place, they are volunteering for shifts in the hospital. The entire team is working very hard to have a good start.
So in our little corner of Tchad, we’re looking forward to decreasing the staggering statistic that 40% of the children of Tchad are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Not acute malnutrition. Not a missed meal. Chronic malnutrition. Kids that haven’t seen a bit of protein or vitamin B in months. Literally. The cheapest and easiest thing to prepare for these kids is bouille or boule, so it is the staple of every Tchadian child’s diet. It is a mix of water drawn from a contaminated well and unenriched flour (typically rice flour). This is the most common. And no flour in Tchad, regardless of its source, is enriched. White rice or white flour of any kind. Completely nutritionless. If they are lucky, there might be a little lime juice or maybe even a little peanut sauce.
Without protein, without calories, without vitamins, they come to us with Kwashiorkor or Marasmus malnutrition. We even frequently see Beri-beri and many of the other diseases common to malnutrition. They come in puffed up like the Michelin man, but with toothpick thin arms and legs. Or they come in with all their ribs showing and their abdomen sunken it. Some babies come in dehydrated, with their fontanelles sunken in a couple centimeters and their lips dry and peeling. Some come in with sores at the corner of their mouths. Some come in with wounds around their anuses. Some just have all their skin peeling off. None of them are able to walk. Many of them can’t even hold up their own heads.
And typically, that’s not the reason they come to the hospital. They usually come in for malaria. They got an illness on top of their malnutrition. Then they have nothing built up in reserve to fight off the infection. They succumb to the disease far too easily. Those that survive are lucky they got malaria. Otherwise, their parents never would have brought them into the hospital.
It’s the parents’ fault... to an extent. To an extent, they just don’t know. When I tell a mother that they should give their baby fruits and vegetables, they act surprised. And they say they don’t have the money. When I tell them that water has no nutrition, they act surprised. But then parents do dumb things too. They keep having babies that they can’t afford to take care of. They have lots of babies, because they know some of them will die. Their sign of wealth and success is lots of babies, not the resources to actually take care of their babies.
So in a country where 21% of children never reach the age of five, somebody’s doing something about it. They’re not just handing out medications. They’re teaching. They’re teaching mothers and fathers about clean water, about proper nutrition, about gardening healthy foods, about how to take care of the children they have already.
We are very excited to have a place to send children who need a second chance.
But they don’t have a name for this place yet. Wendy would like some help. Any ideas? In French?