The Menace of Malnutrition

IMG_1408Meet José, a ten year old from Santa Rosa.  He has cerebral palsy, and weighs fourteen pounds. 

While we were in Santa Rosa, I once again held a starving child in my arms. . .and realized once again how helpless I am in the face of human suffering.  José is one of the most unresponsive children I’ve ever held.  Usually, when I look into the eyes of a malnourished child, I feel as if they are pleading for help.  As I look into the vacant eyes of José, I fear I’m looking at a child who has given up. . .who has lost hope of receiving human contact or understanding or love.

IMG_1409José’s mother and grandmother are estranged, and he has been living with his grandmother.  For years she has refuse to admit him into any malnutrition program.  She would say that it was because she would miss him too much, but as I watched her with him, in the two plus hours it took Dick and John to fit his chair, I never once saw her talk to him or caress him.  He lay in her lap staring off in one direction as she stared off in another.  While I don’t pretend to understand her life, the mother in me believes José needs more than Grandma is able or perhaps willing go give.

IMG_1416 crA year ago, a family from Omaha agreed to sponsor this little one and we have been providing food assistance to the family on a monthly basis.  Flori, the social worker from this area who has been taking the food to them, had concerns that José might not be receiving the food, since he was still not gaining weight. We began sending only formula.  Still he was not improving.  Yet grandma refused to bring him into Hermano Pedro for an exam, saying at for years missionaries have told her he would die, and here he is, still alive.

When I faced José at the distribution, I did something I have never done before. . .I told grandma that if she would not allow José to be examined at Hermano Pedro we would stop sending help.  I detest when North Americans think they know better than families how to care for their children, but, after talking extensively with Dick and Flori, I couldn’t help but feel that we were contributing to the neglect of this young boy if we did not set some limits.  I explained to Grandma that I was not saying that José needed to stay at Hermano Pedro, but that I needed to make sure there was not a medical reason (other than his severe Cerebral Palsy) why he was not gaining weight. 

Grandma reluctantly agreed, but Flori told us that she had talked with Hermano Pedro about José and they had said that in this instance his mother would have to be the one to admit him.  It was hard not to feel like we were fighting a losing battle here.  Grandma said she did not know how to reach her daughter.

IMG_1462cEnter Vitalina, the amazing office manager for the mayor’s office.  She knew the mother.  She told us Mom lived on the same piece of land on which Grandma lived.  She told us she would handle this.  And she did.  She talked to mom, and explained that Dick and I would drive her to Antigua with José if she could come the next day.  She could not, since she needed someone to care for her younger child. . .and evidently Grandma would not do so. 
She did agree to come in the following day with a group that Flori was bringing to Hermano Pedro from their area. Vitalina found space for her in the van, and they did come in.  Without hesitation, Mom agreed to admit him to Hermano Pedro when we agreed to assume the financial responsibility for any lab tests he might need.


So, our little José is in the malnutrition ward.  I wish I could say that he is thriving, but that is far from the truth.  Dick has been told that it is almost impossible to get him to eat, but they are trying before they use a feeding tube.  I can’t help but feel that he’s just given up.  Still, when he’s held, he does not make eye contact.  He does not cuddle in the way many children, even those with CP, do when they are held.  And my heart breaks anew. . .

Did we do the right thing?  
Was it too little too late?  
Did we just make a bad situation worse?

Those are hard questions to contemplate, and they are impossible to answer. 

I trust, though, that Vitalina and Flori knew the situation better than we do, and used us as the “clout” to get the family to do what was needed for this child. 

I trust, too, the expertise of the staff at Hermano Pedro to provide the best possible care for this child.  Their track record speaks for itself.  (Click here to read about other children they’ve cared for.) 

Most of all,  I trust that God will honor what we did our best to discern what he wanted us to do for José. 
Please pray for this little one, and the dozens of other like him around this country.  I often want to ask God how he can allow these children to suffer and often die from lack of proper nutrition.  But I don’t dare, because I know the answer.  He has provided enough for all his children.  It is we who need to see that they receive what they need.  I can’t end the menace of malnutrition, but, I can respond to each child God puts in my path.  I pray I will be faithful.


1 comment:

  1. It is sad....and when I think of all the kids here that are like is because of lack of education, it is tradition and culture..."we have always done it this way"...that does not mean that is the correct way but we too have to be careful not to push the CDN way upon them. My heart aches to see the candy man/woman standing outside the school, when we see a kindergarten child carrying a 3 litre of pop home because it is cheaper than the price of Incaparina is so much higher now that a huge company has bought the rights....and so we pray, we pray for revival in Guatemala, for people to ask for forgiveness, to be honest, to care for each other....bless you Pat in all that you do....