Yesterday morning was spent at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti. I was told going in that they follow the “Mother Teresa” model – in other words, they only take the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. We were going specifically to hold babies.
The babies we were visiting were supposed to be between up to two years old, but it’s really impossible to tell how old they are. They’re so malnourished that the two year olds look as if they could be 9 months. We had to judge based on their teeth and their eyes – really, we guessed.
One little girl laying on her back in the crib looked older to me – she had a full set of teeth and her feet were much larger. We guessed her around two and a half. I started wondering if she could walk so I picked her up and put her on the ground. She toddled around hesitantly – clearly not used to the freedom.
I took her hand and walked her to the door, ready to take her into the courtyard. She stopped at the door and just stared out. The contrast to the children I’m familiar with was amazing – the reckless abandon of a toddler learning to walk was nowhere to be found in this little girl.
I brought her outside into the sunlight and let go of her hand. She just stood. She didn’t cry or laugh or smile or anything at all. She just stood in the sun. I wanted her to run toward me or try to escape or get me to chase her.
The Sisters that run the orphanage are clearly good women. They did their job well – they kept the place pretty clean, and I think the kids were fed enough. They clearly made most of the clothes – most of the babies wore matching checked shirts, all sewn from the same fabric.
I tried for a minute to put myself in their position. They clearly didn’t have the resources or the knowledge to give extensive medical treatment. They treated for Scabies and did what they could. Babies still die all the time. There aren’t enough of them to give the babies the attention they need. The babies are mostly two to a crib, and like the little girl, there is little attention paid to anything but keeping them alive. After all, what else can you do? When you’re charged with keeping that many children alive, how can you really do anything else?
The answer is that you really can’t. Especially after a disaster like this, you just have to go on autopilot and do what you can. My heart goes out to the Sisters who live with this day in and out.