By: Jordan Thorndyke
Started interviewing today. It was so surreal. I have never seen conditions like what we saw today.
We first went into the city to visit a Kunas woman who had a 21-month-old son with cerebral palsy. This woman was originally from the Kunas reservation but had to move to the city to be closer to the hospital for her son. Originally, when she first noticed something was wrong with her son she asked her village for help, but they claimed it was “just a phase.” At that point, she moved into an apartment in Panama City with a family member. Despite his age, her son cannot walk, talk, move, or swallow. The apartment that they live in is a one room home in an area that I can only compare to government housing in the U.S… only not as nice. No AC, no TV, and the family all sleeps in the living room together.
In addition to the son with cerebral palsy, the family also has a beautiful 6-year-old daughter. The father works 3 jobs to make ends meet while the mother stays home with the little boy all day. The mother was tiny, and looked like she couldn’t be more than 25 years old. She said that she had asked the government for assistance to buy a stroller because she could not afford one and her son was getting too heavy for her to carry. They have denied her request twice. She desperately needs help from the nonprofit to pay for medication and therapy for her son. She hopes that one day they will receive help so that they can provide for their family.
During the interview, when asked what kind of a future she sees for her son and family, the mother began crying openly to us about her hopes for her son. It was hard for any of us to keep it together as we sat there with her, watching her hold her immobile child in her arms atop the bed they share. Victoria and Hayley both began crying as they listened to her story. I think at that point, the project became very real to us. Despite the culture, despite the language barriers, despite the economic divide, I realized that at the core of this story was a mother who wanted the very best she could give to her child. The love between a mother and child transcends culture. It was obvious that she loved her children more than she loved herself, and that she sacrificed her quality of life for her baby. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.
When we left their home we traveled to the interior of the country (aka the jungle). We crossed the Americas Bridge where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet each other. As we traveled further inland, the vegetation became denser and the homes more spread out. We ended up in a rural village where members of the Kunas tribe had moved to be closer to the city. The village had mostly dirt roads with houses built of tin, cinder block, cement, and wood. The homes we went into had cement floors and no indoor plumbing. Dogs were running all around the villages as were children. The children were so excited to see Americans. They followed us all around and were full of laughter and smiles. When we left, they ran after our van screaming “Ciao! Adios!” One little boy, Mikey, fell in love with Erika and screamed, “Erika, te amo!” as we left.
In the village, we met with two women who had disabled children. One had a little boy who had a bone disease that could be easily fixed if she had enough money to pay for surgery and therapy. The second story was a little more dismal. This woman had a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who had received no medical care in 6 years because of her extreme poverty. Her daughter sat in a stroller, emaciated, immobile, unable to talk, eat, or respond to anything going on. The mother became emotional as she told us that “This was as good as it gets” for her family. Her family is not always able to afford food, so when they have extra they always give it to their disabled little girl, because they know that she needs the most attention. The mother has two other children, both of whom were younger than the little girl, but who sometimes had to go without because their sister required so much care. She was a good, loving mother, but one who was in a dire situation. It cost her $20 to get to and from the city to get medical care for her child which was far too costly for her family.
Although the children are in dire need of help, one of the most painful and striking things
for me was the quality of life for the entire family. These people sacrifice their money and resources for their kids to the point that they are literally drained. Their other kids have to sacrifice food, diapers, toys, and attention so that their siblings can survive. Obviously we want to improve the situation of the disabled kids, but we also want to focus on improving the quality of life for their families. It resonates deeply with me because I know that these mothers want to do the best they can and provide the most they can for their children, but it gets to a point where they run out of money, resources, and patience and it takes a toll on the whole family.
It just makes me realize how much we take for granted in the states. I have a warm bed, central air, a cell phone, a television, a computer with internet, a car, a great education, and health insurance. These people have none of that. None. They live without things that I rely on every single day to maintain my quality of life. It puts things into perspective when I meet people who can’t afford a stroller or a $20 trip to the city. Its all I can do not to reach in my pocket and give these people cash out of my wallet. We cried together while they shared their stories today and I just hope that we can further share their stories so that they can receive the help that they desperately need.