My name is Jodie, and this is my 4th year volunteering at the Malnutrition Center with our church and One More Child ministries. Every trip has its moments and memories that are burned or etched into my brain. For instance, the very first diaper I ever changed – etched into my memory as I looked down at that very skinny child with ribs showing and absolutely no fat on their legs or bottoms. Other memories come to mind such as the arrival of 10 day old twins, or trying for 4 days to coax a smile out of a little boy (and finally getting it!) I remember trying to get a child to sit, stand, crawl or walk… For these past 4 years I have had the honor of working with the Dolphins, the newest and most severely malnourished (and usually youngest) members of the Center. They have been little babies who cry or smile; are happy or sad. They are all babies who don’t realize that their parents have dropped them off and they now have temporary new caretakers. I’m sure in some way of course, they do know that they are not in the “correct” arms but mostly it’s not something that has registered directly with my mind. It’s always fascinated me that whether spoken to in English or Spanish, the babies react much as one of our babies would: they smile if they’re happy or cry if they’re sad. That’s that. Even though I speak English to them; they read my body language, my smile, and the drone of my voice and it’s comforting to them.
I love babies; and have always felt comforting a baby, no matter how fussy he/she is happens to be one of the gifts God has given me. So today, my heart was shattered in a different way that will no doubt be haunting me for a very long time. Other members have dealt with older children who KNOW what’s going on. The children totally understand that the teams leave and the friends they made leave. The teams bawl when they leave because the kids have bonded and responded to them. Typically, I just love on the babies and figure they’ll never remember me and that doesn’t matter because my job was to love on them. However, today a very different view was presented to me– that of the child’s view. This is something I’ve not seen because I’ve only worked with infants who’ve been here awhile. A little girl around 2 years old kept walking around kind of mournfully, pitifully moaning, “mama, mama, mama.” She was looking at each of us in our eyes and going to the next person, but never finding her mama. We tried everything possible for this little girl but she would not/could not be comforted. She migrated towards a particular lady in our group and sort of liked her as if she reminded her of her mama, and finally allowed this lady to feed her lunch and rock her to sleep. It reminded me of one of my son’s favorite Dr. Seuss books, Are You My Mother? In this story, a little bird constantly walks from animal to animal, searching for and asking, “Are YOU my mother?” We later found out she was just brought to the Center just a week ago.
As a mother of 4 children I absolutely cannot imagine the pain and difficulty of being faced with the difficult decision of having my child starve to death, or sending my child to be cared for by complete strangers (many from a foreign country!) Even though it would only be temporary, it is an intimidating thought. These families choose this option so that their child could be cared for and get better. Who else can take better care of my child or love her more than me? WOW! Humility and bravery is great in this place. That mother…giving up her child; that child having absolutely NO comprehension as to why they suddenly are in an unfamiliar place with utter strangers searching with no avail for the familiar… This is a thought and perspective that will stick with me for a very long time. I’m thankful that though this is a physically demanding and emotionally exhausting week, that God has given me an opportunity to love on these children as much as I can. It’s overwhelming to think about. Maybe in heaven someday we’ll meet with the parents of these children and they’ll know that we truly loved them and cared for them and that hopefully that one small act accomplished something special in their lives! It’s only Monday at lunch time and I’ve already been struck more deeply than on any previous trip! May God bless these little children and their parents both during this difficult time. I also have the extreme privilege of having my own younger daughter with me this week which makes this even more meaningful!