Stories of Impact
Those We Meet Along the Way: Angelina
It was our second-day touring health clinics in Angola. Despite all my research on infant mortality and malnutrition, nothing could have prepared me for facing this stark reality up close and in person.
As we walk into the small clinic room that is reserved for highly progressed cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), I see Angelina. She looks to be a toddler, maybe around 2 years old. Her body is in a severe state of wasting. We move toward the corner of the room where her bed is and my eyes meet hers. Though she does not have enough strength to cry out, it is immediately clear that she is afraid and in pain. There are no words to describe the feeling I had while witnessing her suffering.
The doctor came up to us saying that this young girl is desperately in need of a blood transfusion. He told us her parents were out searching for someone with a matching blood type and willing to help. Then, he asks if anyone in our group would be willing to test if we were a match. We were ecstatic to discover that a member of our team was a universal donor. He agrees to give his blood in an attempt to save little Angelina’s life. At this moment, it was like we were on a pendulum swing, one moment feeling incredibly depleted, and the next filled with hope that we could help!
They began attaching the IVs, and we all anxiously crowd around, hoping to see an immediate and obvious difference in this precious girl. The healthy blood makes its way into her body. We wait. The pendulum began its swing back. The impact of the transfusion is unknown, and the doctors ask us to leave and give it time. We oblige, finding our way back to our hotel. Our thoughts of this baby girl whose life is hanging by a thread playing on a loop in our minds.
The following morning, I receive a text that Angelina died just a few short hours after we left. Her death was completely preventable. This experience of facing malnutrition and watching it take a life completed changed me.
Not in Obscurity
Looking back on this, it’s easy to see that this experience with Angelina, was a major turning point for me and the creation of Saving Moses. In Hanging by a Thread: The Saving Moses Journey, I describe the impact she had on me; “It struck me that Angelina embodies infant mortality in Angola- of the thousands of needless deaths of infants that would slip away, but not from my recollection, not in obscurity…Up to this point in my journey, I’d never encountered firsthand, the urgent and deeply compelling survival needs of babies and toddlers. This overwhelmingly intense encounter with Angelina helped to solidify in my heart why Saving Moses focuses on the most urgent survival needs of babies and toddlers, where the care is least available.”
Belito is another baby I met in Angola. He was about 14 months old at the time, and he was just being discharged from the clinic. Like Angelina, he had come to the clinic to receive therapeutic milk, a formula specially designed for babies and toddlers suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition. Unlike Angelina, he received the treatment in time. As with most diseases, catching and treating it early on is one of the best ways to ensure survival.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of visiting him many times and getting to watch him grow and thrive fills me with hope, reminding me that we are making a difference. Because of our malnutrition clinics, so many babies and toddlers like Belito have had the opportunity to grow up, make friends, play, and so much more.
Belito’s story brings me an incredible amount of courage and determination. There will always be little ones like Angelina, who come to receive treatment too late or who cannot make it for other reasons, but there will also always be little ones like Belito, whose lives will be saved and forever changed.
A Lasting Impact
Their stories not only made a lasting impact on me but on Saving Moses as well. After seeing the compelling and urgent needs of malnourished babies and toddlers in Angola, I officially pledged that Saving Moses would get involved. We now have seven malnutrition clinics that provide therapeutic milk to babies and toddlers with SAM, and we conduct community screenings to find and treat moderate malnutrition cases before becoming as progressed as it was in little Angelina.
Whenever I travel to Angola or the other countries Saving Moses works in, I fight discouragement again and again. Despite our malnutrition clinics having a 90% cure rate in 2021, I have still seen many babies die from malnutrition and know there are so many more around the world who need help.
At one time or another, you may have heard a version of The Star Thrower by Loren Eisley. If you haven’t heard it or if you need a refresher, it goes something like this:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent dow, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
Belito’s story, like the story of the boy and the starfish, reminds me that facing malnutrition is worth it, and that we are making a difference. Saving even just one life is incredibly significant. Let’s be encouraged, rather than overwhelmed or intimidated by the staggering amount of need, and instead find fulfillment- like the little boy in the story- with every life we save. Facing malnutrition will never be easy, but it will be worth it.