I entered the Casita Feliz on a special mission. A joyous place, filled with happy voices, smiling little faces and tiny hands reaching out to be squeezed, the “happy little house” is the new dwelling of Alicia, 7 years old,a waif brought to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center four days before by a Medical Team from Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos, Texas. I wanted to see how she was feeling today and assess the recovery progress she was making.
Having been a photographer for the Team the last day of Field Clinic, I had developed a special bond with Alicia which started when I was asking her to stand closer to her mother for a picture while they waited to be seen by the doctor. My hand brushed her very taut belly and my eyes immediately fell to her feet to confirm what I suspected – Alicia was in a state of severe malnutrition – her feet barely visible because of her long dress were swollen, peeling and raw, the secondary effects of not having enough protein and vitamins in her food. My heart ached as I looked through the camera at her sad brown eyes. Her demeanor spoke of a life of pain, indeed the struggle to survive.
My gut instincts told me this was the child we had come to the mountain village of Santa Rosa de Bacadilla to retrieve. She was the reason we were right here, right now. Reflexively I felt a deep gratitude and sent up a prayer to God for having sent us, for the privilege of being part of this Medical Team … today.
My heart quickened as I saw the family enter the humble little structure that usually serves as a one-room school but today was a one-room Clinic filled with Doctors, Nurses, Support staff and Patients. I quickly followed knowing I would have an important role to play in the treatment of this particular family. My fluency with the language, my profession as a Registered Nurse and a life-time living in these mountains and watching malnourished children recover give me a unique perspective and skill set that would come in handy.
As they sat before Dr. Ivery – a pediatrician – and her translator, Paul, I hunched down next to the mother. Then, for what seemed like an eternity but was probably a little less than an hour, we coxed and cajoled the mother to allow hermalnourished seven-year old daughter and three-year old son to be admitted to the Nutrition Program at Pan American Health Service in Peña Blanca. The father – who it turned out is Alicia’s step-father – was convinced much sooner than her mother that this was a good idea. Her mother kept repeating, “I don’t want her to be brought back to me dead” and “I don’t want a dead child”, while all the time resisting her consent for her children to be treated and restored back to health. At some point I glanced over at Dr. Ivery, a mother herself, who had tears streaming down her cheeks. With a lump in my throat I said to the mother, “See, the doctor knows how seriously sick you little girl is and it makes her sad. And she is a mother too and knows how hard it is to think of being apart from your children”. At this I saw a ceding in the mother’s manner. Tears started to well in her eyes as she said: “Ok, but tell the doctor to stop crying”. I breathed a sigh of relief as I knew Alicia was on her road to recovery.
Having the consent of Alicia’s mother for her and her little brother to be admitted to the Nutrition Rehab I stepped out of my role as translator/nurse and resumed my photography job. The next time I looked back at Dr. Ivery and Paul’s medical station my heart was warmed to see Nellie, a nurse and Karen, a respiratory therapist and the leader of this Medical Team gently washing Alicia’s swollen and peeling feet. After softly bandaging her feet up with Karen, Nellie scooped Alicia into her arms and tenderly carried her out of the one-room, make-shift Clinic, up the trail to the vehicle that would transport her to a new life. I was transfixed as I snapped photo after photo, my mind reeling at the miracle I was witnessing, my heart full of a knowing that Alicia’s life will never be the same again. I was struck by the symbolism as Nellie carried Alicia up the path … up and out of her life of pain.
Four days later, I am in the Casita Feliz on a mission. I am here to see how Alicia is feeling today. My heart leaps as she responds in a one syllable chirp that sounds like a little bird: “Bien” (Good) to my question of “Como te sentis hoy?” (How do you feel today?). I feel deep gratitude and great love for this child bubbling up in my chest and impulsively, without thought, I blurt out, “You know, God sent us to get you. Did you know that?” Instantly her face lit up, her eyes sparkled and joy radiated from one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. That moment was clear confirmation for what I knew in my gut when I first took her picture: God sent us to Santa Rosa de Bacadilla to get Alicia.
He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, Restoring dignity and respect to their lives – a place in the sun! ~ 1 Samuel 2:8