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Dr. Jane Aronson Headshot

Crying Voices of Starving Babies

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Day two of our service trip was a very long day. We had 12 hours of adventures in the van as we meandered through the traffic in Port au Prince. The 90 degree heat and the traffic toughened us up for sure and gave us a real feel for the challenges of life on this island. We accomplished a lot! We started with a visit to St. Damien Children's Hospital and then to the makeshift Pediatric ER at the public hospital called HUEH which was destroyed in the earthquake; sheared off cement and rebar are the face of this grand edifice.

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General public hospital ruined by the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The moment that I want to share is our visit to Missionaries of Charity (blue- and white-garbed sisters) at their "feeding center." It was the end of a long day and I had been here before so I knew what to expect. A very young mother and her baby were outside of the locked door of the orphanage. The mother was likely hungry and her baby may have been without food for days. They let us in after we used a rock to knock on the door repeatedly, but the mother and baby were left to despair in the street, still near the door even after we left an hour later.

We entered and dispersed and picked up babies who are alone and sick... dehydrated, starving, malnourished, skinny and failing to thrive... depressed and empty of heart. There were a total of 50 babies in two different rooms; this is triage. Some are more ill than others and that is a good way to get them better. Mothers can come to this center and help out, but there were only a few in the rooms today. The babies were tired and quiet when we first came in. Some were lying listlessly while others were sitting in place not engaged and not active. There were no toys. There were hardworking nurse-like workers who were bathing and changing the babies.

I held a few of the children in my arms and touched their faces gently. I spoke to them and reassured them. I held them close. I started to cry, wiped my eyes and then did what I always do in orphanages. I walked away and leaned against the sink and closed my eyes with my back to the cribs. I listened to the howling and the moaning. I absorbed the mournful voices of babies who felt abandoned and hungry and alone. I listened long and hard. They spoke to me. Please don't leave me. Please pick me up and hold me. Where is my mommy? Why am I here? When am I going home? Who is this stranger? Help! Their desperation is loud and unjust.

We left and smelled the foulest of smells from a broken toilet which I think is their only toilet. The sisters were trying to manage this disaster on their own. I wondered how this would be resolved. I call a plumber at home, he comes and I never worry; this is not the case for the orphanage.

I leave exhausted and feeling a bit helpless. I detach myself as I must and then I see that young woman and her baby on the street close to the door. No one has figured out how to keep babies from coming back repeatedly to "feeding centers" or hospitals in developing countries. Kids repeatedly get dehydrated and are chronically malnourished. Mothers are without education and jobs and somehow the cycle continues.

Worldwide Orphans is working hard to understand all that affects at-risk children in the countries where we work. We can't solve all the problems, but we know the issues and we work with other partners to address these issues. We are currently in conversation with Missionaries of Charity about bringing play to their "feeding center." We are also talking to the pediatrician who runs the makeshift Pediatric ER at HUEH to see if a WWO Toy Library can help there as well.