This week I was in Kasongo-Mwana. A small village 5-10 hours drive from kilwa, depending on how many times you get stuck in the mud or how many flat tires you have along the way. So far this week, one stuck in the mud, one flat tire. Thank goodness the rainy season is almost over. The drive through the countryside is breathtaking. Everything is green and their are hundreds of butterflies.
We are supporting this centre so that we can provide health care for the returning IDPs (MSF lingo for "internally displaced person"). IDPs are essentially refugees in their own country… not so lovely. Many of these people are survivors who managed not to be killed by running into the forest when their villages and fields were burned and their families were murdered. They are returning from the IDP camps in Dubie to try to rebuild their lives. Some people haven’t come home because they are still afraid.
We are following a tuberculosis (TB) patient here. We counsel him that he and his wife must sleep seperately while he starts the intensive phase of his treatment. This is kind of hard if you live in one room. She is afraid to sleep away from her husband. We find an empty room with windows at either end in the health centre. It’s the best we can do.
A father brought his son for a consultation. He is 8 years old but looks about 5. He is so malnourished that his skin is starting to come off from the swelling in his feet. There is a name for this, "kwashiorkor". His kidneys have stopped working and his face is so swollen that he can barely open his eyes. His abdomen so full of fluid he can barely breathe. I wonder how he is still alive. The father agrees to come with us to the hospital. They are fortunate we are in the centre and can transfer the boy in our car, otherwise it is a three day walk and he would never make it. I’m not even sure he will survive the trip in the car.
I went to the hospital today. The little boy is doing better. His name is Thierry. His kidneys still aren’t working, but he can breathe a little better. And yet I am not comforted. I am discouraged. It is hard to comprehend the kind of neglect that is required for a child to be so malnourished; the kind of systemic neglect of a human being that allows for the circumstance in the first place. I know we can do better. I have a card I brought from home that says « Just when the caterpillar thought it was over, it became a butterfly. » There are butterflies everywhere here. They remind me that change is always possible. Doing better is possible.