Reality Strikes Again

March 2, 2011 | Alexandra, EIL Program, Panama, Nutre Hogar Santiago, Social Worker Assistant

I work at Nutre Hogar, which is a home for malnourished children in Santiago, Veraguas, Panama. There are a lot of observations to be made from working at Nutre Hogar, the children who arrive there, the people who try their best to take care of them, the sparse little building that houses the whole project. I have had so many “ah hah” moments in my short time here, it is hard to just choose one to write about, but I have decided on this one. I could have written a description of what I do, or what it’s like to be here, but you can’t know until you are here, so I hope that this paints a picture.

I am not very good at assessing children’s ages. I mean, if you gave me a normal child, age 2 I could probably guess that, but I have never paid much attention to children, never cared much for children, and never had many little children in my life up until this point. I held babies very infrequently, on a four times in a lifetime basis, and so, my knowledge of children is quite limited.

When I arrived at Nutre Hogar, I knew that the kids were too small, that was evident. They don’t have that good ‘chub’ that kids are supposed to have on their bodies to help them grow, they were just stick arms and legs, and distended little stomachs, but seeing them was not overwhelming, they are still very much little, adorable children. Nutre Hogar; while a home for malnourished children is still a place full of warmth and love and children who want hugs and kisses. But I was caught off guard when I realized the extent to which malnutrition can affect a child, something I wasn’t prepared for. 

This morning I’m feeding this beautiful little girl, she’s precious, her name is Janet, and standing beside one of the social workers, Ruby. We were making small talk – the kind that still fascinates me [like that she’s only thirty-one and she has 4 kids, one of which is already 11]. So I just asked how old the kid I was feeding was. “1 and 1/2” –this answer seems wrong because the little girl in front of me is the size of an infant, she has the body of a six month old with no extra weight, glass wrists, petal feet, the child isn’t even feeding herself. One and a half? I look again, the kid has teeth, but she makes no sounds, she doesn’t speak, I’m not sure if she even walks. This is where reality and education come together, the real life example of what happens to the body when only fed a diet of rice and occasionally beans. What’s more, the kids aren’t just nutritionally deficient, they are also psychologically and socially deficient as well, because their parents don’t teach them how to speak or walk. But when do you teach a baby to really speak, or than by speaking to it? There’s never really a course.

It’s hard to get a hold of my emotions here, because I wonder a lot of things about the little people inside and the lives they must have led up until this point. But this is reality, this is another thing that I have to come to terms with here.

When Ruby leaves hauling 2 babies on her hips into the playroom, I couldn’t help myself, I looked into Janet’s eyes and said, “I will talk to you. You will be wonderful. You will grow up and change the world. You will be whatever you want”. I wished my words had power because then I wouldn’t have felt so silly and self conscious after saying them. But that was my prayer for her, and for all of them.

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