There is a little girl named Djiana who lives one house[tent] down from me.
She is 9 years old.
When I met Djiana she weighed 32 lbs.
Can you please think about that for a second? 9 years old and the weight of the average American 3.5 year old!
You want to know a sick secret? When I saw her, I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t appalled, I didn’t cry over the injustice. I should have been. I should have been horrified over the fact that this STARVING child lived less than 100 yards from my front door. But I wasn’t. For 3 days I sent her away because that wasn’t what I was here for. I didn’t want to start a project for starving kids, that wasn’t my calling.
There are hundreds of programs set up for hungry and malnourished children in Leogane. They are everywhere. In my tidy, North American mind Djiana fit into a box. A box that was “someone else’s problem” A category that didn’t fit into my project’s work.
After several days I finally gave in and fed her a small bit of food. She was back the next day. “Mwen grangou” she mumbled to me when I opened the gate. I couldn’t argue, no matter the circumstances, she was hungry. The circumstances, I would soon learn, were appallingly unfair.
I asked her to bring her mother to see me, hoping that I could find a way to help this family provide for themselves. Instead I found something that made me so mad I could hardly see straight.
Through my gate walked a heavy set woman and her very healthy and well fed 3 year old little boy. From just one glance I could see that Djiana’s baby brother weighed significantly more than she did. Speaking to her mother did nothing more that elevate that anger. She told me that Djiana’s father refused to give her help to feed her. She “didn’t have any money to buy her food”. This woman, who clearly hadn’t missed a meal in a while, told me that she couldn’t feed her child. Her current boyfriend was the father of her younger boy, he paid for their care. Judgment and rage crowded out any bit of love and compassion in my heart. How could this woman sit in her home and put food into her fat, disgusting mouth and ignore her hungry little girl? How in the world could she physically do that? The thought of my own baby being hungry is enough to make me sick to my stomach. There is no way on earth I could possibly relate to this selfish, awful woman. When I tried to talk to her about wanting to help Djiana she was indifferent. She told me that she was a troublemaker, a nuisance. She didn’t blink at all when I warned her that her daughter was in danger because of her physical state. She didn’t even flinch when I told her that if she continued in that way she could die!
When the neighbors saw me talking to Djiana’s mother they told me that she was an “evil” woman. That she tried to sell her daughter and would steal from me if I let her into my house. They told me that I should tell Djiana that she couldn’t come for food anymore.
This little girl, in the eyes of everyone who knew her history, would be forever punished for the sins of another. Never given a chance because of the name she carried.
It is wise for me to listen to the advice of those around me. I should trust the teaching of those who know so much better than I do. Most of the time I do but there are times when they are just so wrong. A 9 year old girl being turned away because her Mother is a rotten excuse for a guardian? How is that justified.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t tell a hungry little girl to leave when I had an entire kitchen full of food to share.
There have been some who thought that because I am not sticking to “the plan” I am doing something wrong. That perhaps I presented something to get funding and then changed my work and spent that money in another way. I can only long for a life where choices are that simple.
The truth of the situation is that yes, I presented a plan for working in Haiti I came here prepared to execute that plan. But then, I opened my heart. I decided to stop planning, stop telling and just start listening. I started to listen to what the people around me were saying. I started talking to them, not as a project but as the true friends they had come to be.
In doing so I was humbled. They told me that they didn’t need someone to take their babies away… there are houses on every corner of this city to do that. They told me that they didn’t need someone to start a church, those also exist in abundance. What they asked of me was simple, they asked me to stay there. To visit them in their homes. They asked me not to take their pictures with my camera, but to know their names. To care if they had a headache or heartache. Just understand, just be touched, just love.
And so, in the midst of all my plans came something perfectly simple and yet intensely complex. Just exist, just love.
In the middle of all the lessons of slowing down and love, is a little girl named Djiana who is hungry. Beyond her mother’s selfishness and greed. Beyond her father who doesn’t care. Beyond the parameters of Espwa Berlancia’s vision, is a little girl.
My initial response of not “caring” about Djiana has had more of an impact on me that anything else ever has. The moment that I realized that I was so removed that I wasn’t broken anymore, brought me to my knees. It challenged and changed me in a beautiful way. Djiana taught me that there are acceptations to every rule.
While I still have no desire to start a feeding program or clinic for malnourished children, I have a desire to change my world. A desire to take my neighbors out of the categories I have put them in and just love.
If that means giving protein bars to a child who knocks on my gate, or listening to the endless stories of the “crazy” old man down the street then so be it. I am confident in my calling, that God wants me here to reach someone. He has given me a clear vision but He has not given me a map to follow along the way. Espwa Berlancia exists to make a difference for the face of HIV and AIDS in Leogane. Rhyan Buettner exists to carry out that work, but I also exist to live, to care, to feel, to love. That cannot be fit into a tidy job description.
“I can not do everything, but I can do something.” and so, I will long for the day when I will have hours full of pregnancy and formula program work. I long for the day when I will be overwhelmed planning ARV programs and patient charts. I long, but I will not sit by and wait when the Djianas knock. I will not turn away when that old man calls me to sit and talk again. I will not run from those who God has placed in my path. I will wait and while I am waiting I will give, everything I have until I have no more.
It is what I am there for. It is an honor and a blessing. It will never, in my mind be a waste of energy or resources and I pray that you would all agree.
For Djiana, I will get up, I will work, I will live and I will love.
*Djiana after 5 weeks of feeding and iron supplements.