By Anita Giagnocavo — We leave the house at 8 am and when we arrive in the village, people are lined up waiting for us—some since 6 am. Today a little old man pushes in front of the line to give us a large Coke bottle of fresh cow milk as a thank-you gift. Three weeks ago we helped him after he had been kicked by a cow at work, cracking a rib. Families live on a subsistence basis, living day-to-day, so he could not take time off from work to recuperate. But he was feeling much better now and taking his vitamins, too. Alejandro, 10, was eagerly waiting for us. “Do you have any shoes for me?” he smiled anxiously. A group was here the week before handing out shoes, but he hadn’t received any. He works in the fields and isn’t allowed to go to school. He and his brother had seen the activity in the village but couldn’t come until lunch break and by then the shoes were gone.
He told me his father and mother were not around much but, vague as to why. Many fathers abandon the family, which leaves the financial responsibility on the mother and the kids. He said his mother was gone several days at a time.
His face and hands had been very dirty and he had big sores all over his face, chest and arms. He also had very dry, scaly skin—a sign of malnutrition. He seemed like a very bright boy so I had decided to give him some medicine for his sores.
“Do you have any shoes for me?”, smiled a shy barefoot boy with sores all over his face and body.
The week before I had given him some soap, vitamins, antibiotics and an antibiotic cream, and carefully explained how to take the medicine. As a rule, we don’t give medicine to children under 14, but I knew his mother wouldn’t come to the clinic and his infection would get worse. His skin was looking much better this week.
Today he was here for the shoes I had promised him. I gave him and his little brother each a bag of shoes, shirts, skin cream, toothbrush, toothpaste and more soap. Because we didn’t want others coming to the bus looking for more things, we told him to hurry home. He thanked me several times, almost jumping up and down with excitement with the bag in his hands.
But the best thanks was that the boy seemed so happy and pleased that we remembered to bring the shoes. I’m sure he has had many disappointments in his short ten years. He scurried away up the hill waving at me, with his brother right behind, running to keep up.
A young mother, 17, comes on the bus bringing her one year old with severe diarrhea, which is all too common due to poor sanitary conditions and drinking bad water. We give her some medicine, soap and re-hydration powder. Dr. Martinez emphasizes how important it is to wash after going to the bathroom and before eating.
But filth is everywhere. Many families keep pigs in the house and they don’t understand about germs and washing their hands; children sometimes go the bathroom wherever is convenient. Many five-year olds care for babies while the mother works, so babies aren’t kept clean. Amoebas, parasites and worms are common and along with diarrhea sometimes cause death. To stop diarrhea, some moms think that they should cut off fluids to the child, which only dehydrates them and makes the situation much worse.
Another mother brings her two little girls with massive foot infections. Worms had entered the bottom of the girls’ feet. The mom dug out the worms, but left open holes which got infected. We gave them antibiotics, creams, soap and cleaning instructions and wrapped the one girl’s foot in bandages so that the mother would keep her foot clean.