A face that alternately implores and defends. Scraped elbows and a lightened patch of skin on his left cheek, perhaps only a rash, but maybe something more worrisome. He’s eight years old and, by American standards of size appears closer to six; maybe five. His smile is slow and requires considerable provocation, but it is worth it. When it can be coaxed, his eyes shine and he looks directly at you, at least for a few seconds. We have seen him now on two different days at the clinic; at the school perhaps half-a-mile away; and on the road to Cujilica. Some of us remember him from last year when he was rarely seen without baby sister in his arms. It seems clear that he’s a very good little boy with much too great a burden – even when he’s not carrying his sister. There’s something about him, both when he is standing still and when he’s fully animated, that says that maybe he could accomplish anything. Right now, the world is not opening many doors. The students of SHC tell him by their gentle and loving presence and by their joy that he has the right to participate, that he deserves a chance.
Beth Ann Digiorgis (’11, 1st year) looks with new eyes at this place that has come to matter very much to us. She sees the persistence of pain and illness, the lack of access to even the most basic primary care and medical service. She recalls with discomfort the patient with chronic headache pain who receives 20 ibuprophen tablets – relief that likely will last a week.
Our meeting with the coordinator of projects for the Mayor’s office is encouraging. He describes the Mayor’s determination to empower people in the communities to participate in local government; to evaluate the services they receive; and to help decide what projects will be undertaken by the government. Our interviews with local residents later in the day raise some question about the realities: people must be able to sign their names to receive some kinds of government assistance and to vote – and many cannot. We’re worried because we see proportionally too many teachers and official community leaders among our clinic patients. Those of us who are returning recall those people we met in the far reaches of the district – the poorest of the poor; the most marginalized. They may not have heard about our clinic and they may be left out, yet again.
We know now that the district of Cuje covers about 50 square miles and has a population of 2300 to 3500 people. Such census data as exist are not reliable. We continue to hear references to maps of the district, but they seem never to materialize – or turn out to be the most skeletal representations. A field team led by Ashley Ingram (’11 and 1st year) went into the interior areas to mark waypoints that will allow us in time to provide a detailed map of the district, with roads, trails, houses, wells, schools, and rude meeting houses. Kevin Sethi, Margaret Summers, and Beth DiGiorgis joined the effort and brought back tales of barely navigable terrain and amazing vistas. While some rested and others attempted yet another interview, two team members took the opportunity to explore greater downtown Ocatal. Escorted by local tour guides, who apparently were not yet licensed, Jackie (Ja qui-qui) Ramirez and Soyoung (!Zoing!) Hwang discovered more about the local community and were joined for a light afternoon snack by their enterprising aides.
Emily Matson (’12; 1st year) will coordinate the clinic operations tomorrow. It’s a big responsibility – remarkable for a freshman and first-year student to take on. Emily is a study in concentration: intense, focused, and goal-oriented. That means sometimes a kind of single-mindedness that results in her paying a little less attention to things just outside the goal at hand, leading to a signature line: “Oh, wait, what . . . ?” Led by Ruby (“Rupert Rubentstein”) Langsley, some of the children of Cuje sang happy birthday to Emily today. It doesn’t matter much that Emily’s birthday was February 23rd. The children sang and laughed with abandon in their genuine expressions of affection.