Feeding the Doctor

This post is shared from Christina Vander Pol’s blog. 

“Mesi, Miss” (thank you, Miss) he says, handing back his empty plate and patting his stomach, grinning.  He says it was “enpil manje” (a lot of food), and looks pleased as he heads back out the kitchen door.  I am glad for him to have enough to eat today, because I remember a day Camille did not.A couple of weeks after he had started working for us, I happened to see Camille as I looked out the window, sometime early afternoon.  Something was off.  He was pushing a wheelbarrow load of rocks down the sidewalk and every few steps he would stop and take a short break.  He seemed to look around to see if anyone had noticed and then continued on a few steps before stopping again.  Kirk was heating up a leftover container of spaghetti in the microwave, and I said to him, “Something is not right.  I don’t think he has the strength to work.  He seems weak.”  Kirk divided the spaghetti he was going to eat onto two plates, added some bread and stepped out to the front porch to eat.  He invited Camille to join him.

A few minutes into conversation Kirk asked him about what he usually eats in a given week.  He admitted he often eats just a package of crackers for breakfast, and does not have money to eat much, if anything, during the day while  at school.  He hopes for an evening meal, but does not always get one. The plate of spaghetti he was holding was the largest serving he had eaten since Wednesday of that week.

There are days he does not eat. There are days he does not know when he will next eat.
That day, while we took our time getting up for day, chose and ate breakfast, had morning snacks with the kids, decided among the choices for lunch and ate; that day while the kids munched and spilled Domincan sandwich cookies in the yard as they biked and played … a malnourished teen moved wheelbarrow loads of rock around our yard without complaint.It is one thing to know there is hunger in the world.  It is another to have hunger taking the vitality of a young man, right before you; to look into his friendly eyes knowing the gnaw of need in his gut.

Camille sometimes goes to school hungry, listens to lectures and lessons, hungry; studies for exams and takes tests, hungry.

Can you imagine being able to sit through class or concentrate on an assignment as your stomach rolls and growls it’s need for nourishment?  I don’t know if I can even remember a time I have been so famished or desperate.   I certainly never need worry if I will eat again between now and lunch o’clock.  I may grouse aboutwhat I might have to eat, but never if.

Camille worries about “if”, because he is a malnourished child.

Camille listening to Natalie

At 17, he has already lived a rich and hard life, here in rural Lagossette village.  He is the youngest of many.  His father, an old man for Haiti, died before Christmas of this year, after prolonged heart trouble.  His mother has some work here at the creche but it is little money to pay for food for her family and a young man of 17 may not want to be a burden on his widowed mother.  And so, despite having family who loves him, he is already having to become responsible for himself.  He stays in town during the week so he does not have to pay for travel back and forth to school each day, and comes home on the week-ends.  He is well liked by buddies in the village.  He is proud to say he is a good student, and after some initial trouble after the death of his father, has pulled his marks back up.  He is gentle, respectful, and funny, a spirited soccer player, and applies himself to the tasks given him.  He takes time to let Natalie and Rose tell him important things.

Others have noticed his potential as well. Someone is helping to pay for him to attend high school.  In Haiti, there are very few “public” schools, though some “sponsorship ones” and if you want to go to school, you have to have the money up front.  Many families cannot afford education, especially not past primary school, but Camille is bright and motivated, despite what might seem like insurmountable challenges.  His eyes sparkle when he speaks of his dreams of being a cardiologist.  He is willing to work hard to chase his dream, no matter how elusive it might seem from one observing from the outside.

At the beginning of the school year, my husband Kirk went with him to the school to pay the fees.  Not long afterward, Camille returned and asked Kirk if he could work on Saturdays to pay for food and transportation.  Going to school is great, but not if you can’t get there or can’t eat.  There are many people in need of work and plenty who ask for it, but somehow Kirk felt compelled to find something for this young man to do.

So he comes.  Saturday mornings he arrives at 8:00 AM and cheerfully does whatever jobs are assigned — raking leaves, washing a vehicle, planting seeds, hauling bricks, picking up stones… a day’s work and he earns enough to buy a fast food meal in the States with a little change to spare — that has to last him for a week of transportation and whatever else he may need or want.  One serving of street food will cost him 1/5 of his earnings.  He is grateful.  He believes the job is a privilege and he works hard.

I could say it a million times, “there are no easy answers”.  I wish I could know what the right thing is for helping Camille and so many like him, but all I can think to do is be his friend.  While I can’t (and shouldn’t) ensure he eat enough every day, I can when he’s here.  I make him try out my cooking, eat the extra eggs or toast that have been made for breakfast, compare Haitian and American mamba (peanut butter) or sample a protein shake.  He is too proud to ask, but he is grateful when something is given to him.  When we sit down for lunch I somehow always have a spare portion and have him come on in to try it out.

He might be on to me, but for whatever reason God is onto him.  In his wisdom and goodness, God has willed our paths to meet, even if it is only to feed the doctor for today.  And some day, when Camille becomes a Cardiologist and is serving people who struggle with heart issues like his father did, I will take joy in knowing God used us in this small way in Camille’s life journey and blessed us along the way.

(Camille did give permission for me to use his photos and tell his story.)

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