For most of us, it is difficult to understand how a parent feels when unable to help a sick child because medical resources aren’t available. Sadly, I work with families facing this reality every day. Most recently, I was reminded of this heart-wrenching situation while I was working as team coordinator and translator on an eye surgery mission to Guatemala. Fortunately, most of the parents I meet in this situation, like the family I describe below, are able to have a happy ending: their children receiving needed care. Still, this is not the norm for so many others throughout the world.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Erma and her four-year-old daughter, Ada, while working in the rural Mayan region of Baja Verapaz. Ada was clearly in pain from a large lump above her eye that she’d suffered from since birth. Though shy, she had summoned the courage to ask Erma for help. It was hard to believe this demure and soft spoken little girl had voiced such a demand to her mother.
“A mother never wants to say no when her child is hurting,” said Erma in Spanish although the Maya language, Q’eqchi’ is her native tongue.
“But here, we do not have eye doctors for children,” she said flatly, since she knew it was the truth, and I knew it was the truth. Although our Richmond-based team had driven up in a private van from the capital city of Guatemala in the span of three hours a few days before, it might as well have been across the ocean to this woman whose life centered around raising her family and working in the land. So, like many other parents I have met in her situation, she felt she had to accept that her child would remain in pain because there was simply no possible way that they could afford to take the public bus south to Guatemala City, let alone pay to see a doctor! This is why she couldn’t believe her fortune when the family heard about International Hospital for Children’s visiting eye surgery team through a radio announcement. She immediately followed the instructions on the radio, checked in with our regional partner; the Lion’s Club of Salamá, and was scheduled to see us during the mission clinic.
IHC team leader and pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Carothers of Virginia Eye Institute evaluated Ada and diagnosed the lump as a growing cyst. The team operated and removed the growth, giving Ada a chance for a better quality of life.
“I’m so relieved,” said Erma tranquilly as she looked over her sleeping daughter. “Ada won’t be in pain anymore.”
Unfortunately, Erma’s story is not unique, and not every child has a voice. But thanks to your continued support, more parents in developing countries are able to help their children receive the care they so desperately need . . . the care their children are asking for. It is gratifying for me to see that, together, we can redefine the realities parents are forced to accept.
Ashley Ring Basmajian, Program Manager
P.S. – I captured a small slice of my time with Erma and Ada on video. Please take a moment to watch this short clip to hear from them firsthand. You may notice Erma’s gorgeous “huipil” or beautiful woven blouse. This is clothing characteristic of the Maya of Guatemala. To me, it serves as a rich and complex illustration of the people who live and work there. I love spending time among such earnest, honest and gracious people.