Lessons in Little Mercies and the First Steps of Hope.
The last blog was a tough one to write.
Times like that you look for the little mercies in life. A child’s smile. A recovery. A tiny bit of good news to give you just a little lift. I got that by way seeing one of our patients a previous team had helped treat with amputations and prosthetics. Rose Ann had been walking on her knees for 16 years. But no more. Thanks to Team Broken Earth, she walked. For the first time in over a decade and a half, she walked.
I had heard about Rose Ann’s story before going to see her and the hills and terrain she had to crawl over every day in order to get to work. This week I witnessed it first hand. We stopped for a brief moment on the bottom of the hill so I could see the market where she sells food. Then we proceeded up hill, switchback after switchback, kilometer after kilometer, over rough weather torn terrain that’s not really a road. We travelled in an SUV for 15 minutes until we reached her house. This was the long, hard path she crawled over every day and we barely made it in a truck! In fact, the SUV stalled twice along the way.
The final journey to her house was on foot. Leaving the vehicle, the 40-45 degree heat hits you like a wall. As we walked down a slight grade to her home, there was a little girl walking up hill with two jugs of water. I could see the river from where we were standing, it was a 15 minute drive and at least a one to two hour walk. As I wiped my brow she smiled, and said bonjour.
Rose Ann’s house was a 15 x 15 foot home of make shift sheet metal latched together to give four walls and a roof, an outside kitchen/open pit fire area and a make shift outhouse. She lived in this home as a single mother with 6 children.
Inside there was a rudimentary sheet dividing the home into two smaller sections, a bedroom and an eating area. The kitchen table is an old abandoned computer desk that listed to one side. No electricity, no running water. The bedroom had a combination of rolled up blankets, mattresses and cardboard to sleep on (I will never complain again about my children cramming into our bed at home).
Unfortunately, Rose Ann was not in her home. She was down in the river washing clothes and gathering water. We jumped back in the SUV and headed back down the switchbacks until we reached the river. After brushing several donkeys aside, the SUV turned literally into the riverbed. It’s a beautiful pale stoned riverbed with hundreds of families washing their clothes and gathering water. As we walked down the bed there is a group of kids playing soccer on the side with a homemade soccer ball composed of bags tapped together and no shoes. I can’t help but think of my own little soccer star, Rachael.
From across the riverbed, Rose Ann spots us. She immediately smiles and waves and rapidly on her knees crawls through the river towards us. Water splashing on either side of her, but all you can see is her bright yellow shirt and even brighter smile.
Rose Ann was involved in a motor vehicle accident 16 years ago and became a bilateral (right and left) lower limb amputee. From our long-standing relationship in Haiti, we had heard her incredible story. Dr. Frank O’Dea assessed her, recommended prosthesis and the rest of the team jumped into action. She received two prosthetics and took her first steps this year for the first time in 16 years. It was a huge moment for her. As a single mother though, she still struggles with money for food and education for her children.
Her smile is striking and unwavering as she comes closer to us. I kneeled to give her a handshake. She waved that off and embraces me for a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. Her children were standing behind her, committed to following their mom no matter where she was going.
Although the love between the kids and Rose Ann was obvious, equally obvious was the malnutrition of the children. They were not hungry or skinny but malnourished from a medical lens.
Rose Ann tells us that she cannot wear the prosthetics in the riverbed. It’s not hard to see why. I had to jump over river rocks and running water to meet her half way and I’m sure I could not have done it with bad shoes, let alone prosthetics. But when asked how she felt about the prosthesis, her smile gets even wider and she says her steps were the first steps in the rest of her life.
Little mercies are sometimes as big as a mountain, as simple as a first step.
This much I know: hope is everywhere, hope is real. Hope is what drives Rose to try and make a better life for her children, to make the world a better place.
The first step for the rest of us is to believe it possible.
Thank you, Rose Ann.