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Operation: Kill Bugs, Save Children

Bed bugs are of the devil. They have been wreaking havock on my life for the last few weeks. I have killed them once; I have killed them twice and then a third time and now a fourth time. They never go away. They hate me. They hate my mother and father and ancestors and unborn children. For the love of all things good, I have doused every inch of my bedroom with 5 different bed bug killing sprays (obviously they don’t actually kill them), inhaling all sorts of chemicals, ranging from ovary-friendly to “your children’s children shall not bear offspring”. And yet they prevail. In short, I have decided to start a marketing company to advertise for expensive products that say they kill bed bugs but don’t actually kill bed bugs.

Aside from the bed bugs, I love it here. I live just up a very steep hill from the children’s orphan village, and I often get visited by eager kids who insist that I take them all swimming in the lake. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE swimming in the lake with the kids! But I also feel like a far more awkward and much less toned Baywatch lifeguard, constantly doing headcounts to make sure all my little kiddos remain above water. Of course, they all have been swimming since they were embryos (dumb joke) so the chances of them drowning are very slim, but I do it nonetheless.

One of the obvious challenges in being here is being away from my boyfriend, my family, my friends, and especially my little best friend Ivey. Ivey is three years old and has Down Syndrome, and she is the absolute joy of my life. I took care of her a few days out of the week for almost two years when I was in the States and leaving her was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

About a week into being on Idjwi, I was introduced to another little three year old with Down Syndrome named Eve. I’m told the average life expectancy for a child with Down Syndrome here on Idjwi is about six years old, simply because there is NO education about Down Syndrome and the health risks involved, and there is very limited healthcare available. This broke my heart. I imagined what it would be like to bury my best friend Ivey at six years old, and it made me emotional and sick to my stomach. I listened to Eve’s little heart, and sure enough, she had a heart murmur very similar to the one I listened to before of Ivey’s heart.

I’ve made an appointment in Goma (the city that is a 6 hour boat ride away) for Eve to have an echocardiogram done, and in the meantime she has been coming to stay with me so that I can work with her in hopes of developing her fine and gross motor skills. She has never been able to walk or feed herself with utensils. Once again God worked a miracle, and after a couple days, Eve was able to walk around the room only holding onto me or my friend Diane with one hand and she was feeding herself with a spoon! It’s such a cool thing to watch God as He brings new life in new ways to people.

The most recent happenings around here right now is the home that we started for severely malnourished children. As the rest of this website explains, we are starting a nutritional clinic and program for all of the northern part of the island in hopes of preventing malnutrition as much as possible. However, there is still a lot that needs to happen before that begins, such as providing training to the appointed health workers, finishing the construction of the clinic, and of course raising substantial funds to facilitate all of this. This program will be reaching thousands of children with the goal of correcting the core problem of malnutrition and establishing a long-term plan of improvement. However, many children don’t time.

As I sat in my house and reviewed budgets, programs, and timelines, it occurred to me that some of these children who are severely malnourished will not survive to see the inauguration of this program. I will be too late for them, just like I was for Grace. That’s when I began talking to my friends Elie and Claudine, and I asked if they thought it was possible for us to temporarily take in the most severely malnourished if for no other reason than to buy them some time before our clinic opens and our program begins. Because my people here are awesome, they quickly jumped on board to help me make this happen.

After a community screening, we located seven of the most severely malnourished children, and on September 14, we welcomed them into our first malnutrition home. For the first time in their lives, they get a soft bed to sleep on, three meals a day, brand new clothes and shoes, and free healthcare.

The first day was a circus. The children were terrified, and one of them, Bonne Chance who is four years old, even tried running away when we were getting ready to bathe him in the lake. Of course, he was butt-naked and screaming and we had to chase after him so those types of things always make “playing it cool” pretty impossible. Nothing screams “The American has things under control here” louder than a child running away from you naked.

They all received anti-parasite medicine, and shortly thereafter they began vomiting and pooping 6 and 7 inch white worms. What little food those children had eaten before they came to us was actually just being eaten by the worms inside of them. The other major issue was every single one of these children had multiple severe wounds.

I found myself staring at 20+ severe wounds that needed debridement, and the only tools/supplies I had were a jack knife, mini sewing scissors, a safety pin, a lighter, tweezers, rubbing alcohol, duct tape, gauze, and Bactroban ointment. We prayed fiercely, and then one by one, I had to have the girls who work for me restrain screaming children while I performed debridements, which in America would be done under some sort of anesthesia. It broke my heart to be the one inflicting such pain on these innocent little kids, but I knew it had to be done if they were ever going to heal. Let’s just talk about how awesome my God is, because after a mere four days for many of them, their wounds were almost completely healed.

It’s been a week and a half now since we welcomed these precious kiddos whom I have so quickly come to love so much. We have dealt with malaria, vomiting, severe diarrhea, dehydration, and infection. But God has carried us through each of these adversities. Their once fearful faces are now lit up with laughter and peace.

I see Jesus all around me, and it reminds me that God doesn’t simply do nothing and ignore the cries of those hurting. He has, indeed, done something to relieve the suffering of those around us; He has given US hands and feet and beating hearts for Him to work through to help others. I am privileged to be surrounded by so many inspirational African people who are allowing Jesus to do this through them. When we question why there is a world full of people who are sick, broken, and hurting, it is not God who ignores those who suffer; it is us.

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