Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mother Teresa’s Home for Children in Jacmel, Haiti (2002)

My internal warning alarm was going off. “Shouldn’t I wear a mask or something?” I asked myself. I had been trained at Bellevue Hospital in New York as a volunteer to visit patients with AIDS and I knew that when a patient was highly contagious, the volunteers were supposed to wear masks and gloves. “This baby,” the nun said sweetly, “has tuberculosis.” She picked up a child from its crib and offered it to me. “In fact, all the babies in this wing have TB.” I guessed that applied to the ones coughing, as well as the ones lying quietly. Well, I was as exposed as I was going to get, so I decided to grin and bear it, and took the infant.

“In this wing are the children who are dying of AIDS,” the nun informed us. Doris and Nina Chernik were with me, and we were in Jacmel. “I suppose you work with Dr. Jean Pape,” I asked innocently. “No, who would that be?”, she replied. I was confused. Obviously we were two people separated by a common language. “You know, Dr. Jean Pape, the pediatric AIDS specialist in Port-au-Prince,” I clarified. “No, sorry, there are a lot of doctors in Haiti and we can’t know them all. But many doctors help us.”

“Okay,” I said, “so the children are getting the anti-retrovirals.” Just like so many people in New York City, I thought. “No, we can’t afford them,” she replied. “The children just come here to die.”

My heart froze. These pre-AIDS, HIV+ babies had the same medical condition that so many others had, yet they would live and the Haitian babies would die. Sure, they would die with “dignity,” but a dignified death when life is an option does not seem to me like a God-given option.

I thought to myself how right it was that Orphans International was focused on allowing children to thrive as well as to survive, to become global citizens with an emphasis on social responsibility, so that they could help end the cycle of poverty and move their nations forward. I have much respect for Mother Teresa, but I could never use her approach: It is far too passive. The poor of this earth deserve more than a hospice.

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