voices from ciénaga

I met many people during my time in Ciénaga that came through the clinic and operating room.  There were a few that I spent time with in their homes before and after their experience with the Medical Ministry International team.  As the final installment regarding this trip, here are a few of their stories.

Alfredo, 68

Overwhelming heartbreak poured from Alfredo during our first encounter at the MMI Clinic.  He lamented over the loss of his son, the most recent in a string of tragedies that has shaped much of his life.

Overwhelming heartbreak poured from Alfredo during our first encounter at the MMI Clinic. He lamented over the loss of his son, the most recent in a string of tragedies that has shaped much of his life.

Of all the people I encountered in the Ciénaga area, Alfredo’s story was the most heart-wrenching.  The father of four, he lost his young wife after complications from their last son’s birth.  He sent his daughter to live with his sister in Bogotá and raised his three sons in their modest home.  In 2008, one son was murdered at the age of 28.  He was a motorcycle taxi driver who made a fatal decision when he picked up a certain customer.  When Alfredo showed me the newspaper that detailed his son’s death on the front page, the headlines read, “One man asked him for a ride and paid with a bullet.  He did not rob one cent.”  Tragedy struck again in 2013, when his youngest son, Erasmo, was with a friend in Alfredo’s back yard. Someone entered the yard and assassinated them both.  The target had been Erasmo’s friend; he was killed because he was a witness.  This last death, in particular, has left a lasting mark on his father’s life, and has also left Alfredo to fear for his safety in his home.  His oldest son lives in nearby Santa Marta, but because he has a large family of his own, Alfredo spends much of his time alone.

Alfredo's home, where he lives and works reparing electronics, once was a happier place where he raised his family.

Alfredo’s home, where he lives and works reparing electronics, once was a happier place where he raised his family.

JDavidsonBlog150123-04

Alejandro keeps a file folder that contains photos of his family, including his son Erasmo, pictured, who was shot in his backyard in 2013.

A pile of rocks in Alfredo's yard marks the spot where his son was killed.  He used to take good care of the yard and use the space as his kitchen, but he no longer spends time in this area and relies on a friend to bring him meals.

A pile of rocks in Alfredo’s yard marks the spot where his son was killed. He used to take good care of the yard and use the space as his kitchen, but he no longer spends time in this area and relies on a friend to bring him meals.

The only living space in Alfredo's home is his small bedroom.  Since it is lockable, it also serves as a storage space for his power tools.

The only living space in Alfredo’s home is his small bedroom. Since it is lockable, it also serves as a storage space for his power tools.

Alfredo had come to the clinic needing cataract surgery but fearful of spending money on anything other than a cell phone plan so that he could call out if he was ever in danger.  Thankfully, the doctors and staff at the clinic were able to convince him that his safety was also compromised if he could not see.  While the surgeries typically cost ~1 month’s wages, there are funds set aside for cases like Alfredo’s so that people who are in need do not go without a surgery because of financial limitations.

Dr. Joe Fammartino, from Santa Fe, NM, examines Alfredo's eye at the MMI Clinic.  He was able to convince Alfredo of his need for the cataract surgery that took place a few days later.

Dr. Joe Fammartino, from Santa Fe, NM, examines Alfredo’s eye at the MMI Clinic. He was able to convince Alfredo of his need for the cataract surgery that took place a few days later.

Marisa is a shop owner who lives with her family down the street from Alfredo.  They have become an adopted family for Alfredo, pictured here the day after his cataract surgery.

Marisa is a shop owner who lives with her family down the street from Alfredo. They have become an adopted family for Alfredo, pictured here the day after his cataract surgery.

The light of his life now is a neighbor down the street, Marisa.  She and her husband run a corner store in the neighborhood.  They had moved into the area to flee the violence that had crippled her small hometown.  Marisa is the mother of six and jokes that Alfredo is her seventh child.  He would sweep the floors of her store before it opened each day when he was able, and she brings him meals to his home everyday when he’s not with her family at the store.  While they are no substitute for the family he lost, Marisa and her family provide him needed care and support.

 

 

Alejandro, 11

Alejandro lives with his father and shares his sister's room when he stays with his mom.

Alejandro lives with his father and shares his sister’s room when he stays with his mom.

A smile was on young Alejandro’s face every time that I met him.  He came to the clinic with his mother with a crossed eye (strabismus).  An avid student, he likes every subject in school and dreams of becoming a doctor.  The surgery caused him to miss school the week that I met him, but he was looking forward to returning the following week, now that the kids there would have no reason to make fun of him.

Alejandro came to the clinic with a strabysmus in his right eye.  After the pediatric ophthalmologist screened him (left), she determined that he was a candidate for surgery.

Alejandro came to the clinic with a strabysmus in his right eye. After the pediatric ophthalmologist screened him (left), she determined that he was a candidate for surgery.

After his surgery, Alejandro happily talked about how he was looking forward to returning to school so that the kids there could see his straight eyes and realize that they had no reason to make fun of him anymore.

After his surgery, Alejandro happily talked about how he was looking forward to returning to school so that the kids there could see his straight eyes and realize that they had no reason to make fun of him anymore.

 

 

Lindrys, 31

JDavidsonBlog150128-11When Lindrys was 17, a friend had an eye removed because of an infection caused by rat droppings getting in the eye when he was cleaning off a roof.  At that point Lindrys vowed to her mother that if she ever lost an eye, she would take her own life.  Two weeks later, she and a cousin were in a horrible car accident.  Lindrys’s head hit the dashboard, causing extensive damage to the right side of her face….and the loss of her right eye.  Fearful about her recent promise, her family opted to keep the eye loss from Lindrys.  It was not until she caught a glimpse of a reflection in the doctor’s office several months later that she learned the extent of her injury.  When she confronted her mother about knowing the truth, she said that a great peace came over her.  Instead of declaring a desire to die, she instead expressed gratitude that she was still alive.  This was a powerful moment and a turning point for all of them.

Lindrys (left) was in a car wreck 14 years ago that damage most of the right side of her face.  Her mother (right) becomes emotional to this day when she talks about that dark time in her daughter's life.

Lindrys (left) was in a car wreck 14 years ago that damage most of the right side of her face. Her mother (right) becomes emotional to this day when she talks about that dark time in her daughter’s life.

In recent years, Lindrys has had three surgeries to reconstruct her right brow so that she could be fitted with a prosthetic eye.  During this time she has been studying hotel management and tourism while raising her 4-year-old daughter.  Her daughter’s persistence was a driving force in them seeking the MMI clinic when they did.  Even at her young age, she was the target for other children’s ridicule at school, with comments about her mother being pretty from the neck down, but ugly from the neck up.

Lindrys has the support of her family.  She and her daughter, left, live with her mother, her brother and his family.

Lindrys has the support of her family. She and her daughter, left, live with her mother, her brother and his family.

Lindrys arrived at the clinic in the final days that we were there, and the prosthetic eye inventory had dwindled.  The ocularist who fit these eyes was concerned that no match would be found, but after several moments in prayer and synchronistic moments beyond consequence, a perfect match was in fact found.  When I met Lindrys in her home, I met a vibrant beautiful young woman who has much to look forward to.  She is still in need of more reconstructive surgery and is hopeful that there are other groups like MMI that might be able to help.  With her new eye and more socially accepted looks, she talked eagerly about possibilities of holding a job and hoped for opportunities to one day marry. Ultimately she poured out gratitude to God, not for giving her “normal” looks, but for her injury in the first place, since through it, she has experienced deep grace and a transformed outlook on life.

Lindrys, pictured at her family's home, has a positive outlook on life that has grown from hardships and grace after her accident.

Lindrys, pictured at her family’s home, has a positive outlook on life that has grown from hardships and grace after her accident.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “voices from ciénaga

  1. Each of these stories is touching & inspiring. I agree with you, Alfredo’s life of sorrow is heart-wrenching. I am reminded of how very fortunate we are not to have been born into poverty & hardships such as these people. God bless Alfredo, & may God bless the loving family that have claimed him as one of their own, a 7th son.
    Thank God for the Medical Ministry Team for coming to these people’s aid! These stories are perfect examples of deserving people who simply need help.
    Thank you for sharing, Jennifer.

  2. In teaching elementary school we practice “thinking moves” adopted from Harvard’s Project Zero. One of these moves is “see-think-wonder”, pretty much what Design Thinkers at the d.School at Stanford call the Looking Process. Jennifer embodies this practice not just through her lens but through her outlook upon the world. Somewhere she has a photo of the man bathing the Botero de la Plaza Santo Domingo in Cartagena. The same man has “bathed” her every day since her installation 15 years ago. Come back and “see” more of Colombia!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s