Kids are tough. “Resilient” is a word often used to describe them, especially those who live through adversity yet go on to do great things.
I thought of this during a recent trip to the The GOD’S CHILD Project’s Casa Jackson Hospital for Malnourished Infants and Children in Antigua, Guatemala. I hoped for that resilience as I watched a baby girl named Sagibi struggle to learn to swallow. Sagibi was born to a young girl who was herself malnourished and undersized. Birth trauma left the baby brain-damaged and very possibly blind. When I first visited Casa Jackson on Monday, Sagibi, now 18 months old, was being fed with a syringe. Washburn nurse Jill Weise gently squeezed her cheeks while Bismarck nurse Teri Brandt fed her drop by drop, massaging her throat as Sagibi cried and choked. They never gave up, talking to her in loving tones, persisting through a six-ounce feeding that took more than an hour. And when it was over, they rocked her and cuddled her until she fell into exhausted sleep, only to wake her two hours later to feed her again. But one week in, a miracle. Sagibi began to swallow!
We watched a tiny toddler (just 13 pounds at nearly two years old) named Jennifer struggle to walk. She hasn’t had an easy time, but she’s a tease and a flirt with a ready smile who wormed her way into the hearts of all of the North Dakota volunteers.
There’s something about taking part in victories like these that can forge lasting bonds. Though we knew each other before the trip, we learned more and in a different way. Jill was one of the first children I met when my parents moved me to Bismarck in the fall of 1971. At times I felt as if I’d been dropped onto the moon, that’s how different everything felt at the time. Jill was kind to a strange kid even then. I saw that girl again as we waited on a very crowded Sunday street where people from all over the world were lining up to watch the Lenten processions. She had promised to buy a carving from an Antigua artisan, and she found him in the crowd, then agreed to watch his wares as he went in search of just the right piece for her. That wait was a long one. Anybody else would have walked away, but Jill was not about to let her new friend down. When he returned he earned a hug for his efforts, along with the quetzals she spent.
Bismarck teacher Donna Fricke makes new friends everywhere she goes. And I mean everywhere. Her friendliness radiates from her. And when the chips are down, you want her with you. She was called on early in the trip, when her Bismarck roommate, Deb Grabow, came down with a nasty virus. The circumstances weren’t great, but Deb had to take comfort in knowing that Donna was keeping careful watch and forcing fluids on her as she shivered through the night.
Spending time with the poor in Guatemala sweeps minor annoyances away and puts life into proper perspective. Wicked weather meant some of us spent the night on the Minneapolis airport floor. Yet it’s hard to complain about a cancelled flight when you’ve seen a barefoot woman walk miles into town for a chance at farm-fresh vegetables handed out once a week at The Dreamer Center.
We may never know what happens to Sagibi or Jennifer, or the other babies we met and loved at Casa Jackson. But if the employees of The GOD’S CHILD Project are any indication, the children just might go on to do great things. Just like the lawyers, the doctors, the teachers, and the administrators who were brought from the streets of Antigua into The Dreamer Center classrooms, who overcame great odds and now do their part every day to change the world. Resilience.
Monica Hannan is an Emmy-Award winning television news manager, anchor, and talk show host at KFYR-TV in Bismarck, North Dakota and is also the author of several books, including her latest, Gift of Death – A Message of Comfort and Hope. She holds her friends close, and believes they are also gifts sent by God.