Guest article by Dr. James A. KowalskiWashington Post, February 13, 2013 (reprinted by permission)
When I heard Jordan’s story, I knew I wouldn’t forget it. Jordan is a young medical practitioner who volunteered in Honduras. I need to share what happened – especially this Lent, a time of renewal.
In 2010, Jordan traveled to the outskirts of Honduras’ capital city of Tegucigalpa. As a young radiologist, she was there to assist with much needed basic medical services at a community center called Campamento Betel (Camp Betel). Soon after her arrival she bonded with a new young friend and patient, a full-of-life nine-year-old boy who enjoyed soccer and laughing with the other children of Camp Betel.
The boy had come to the medical clinic because an infection had spread to his left eye. Jordan and her team diagnosed what’s called a Neglected Tropical Disease. Every year NTDs are so widespread that they impact 1.4 billion people, 500 million of whom are children. They prescribed a course of treatment, the key to which was a steady routine of hand and face washing with clean water.
A simple answer to avert further problems, right?
A year later Jordan returned to Camp Betel for a second tour with the clinic. She was surprised to see the infection had grown and now formed a tumor over his left eye and part of his face. The once cheerful child was morose, dark, and distant.
Water around Camp Betel is unsafe. Like one sixth of the world’s population, this family has neither safe water nor appropriate sanitation. For them, water – the foundation of life – is a disease-ridden gateway to illness. The sad truth is that many diseases would be prevented if safe water resources were consistently available.
In fact, the World Health Organization lists 25 dangerous diseases as “water-related,” with something between three to six million deaths, mostly affecting children in developing regions – due to unsafe water.
When 11-year-old Christian died from complications from a treatable disease simply because he did not have access to clean water, I believe part of the Divine Heart also died – and each of us was diminished as that unique, unrepeatable gift of human life was wasted. Christian’s death is an injustice: to him, to his parents and community, and to the young doctor who had to see him die. It is an injustice that our world, the lack of safe water and sanitation has become the leading killer of children, taking over 8,000 young lives every single day.
Christ’s death, and Christian’s death, calls on us to do better. God wants us to face injustice and combat wrong. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
For Christians not to respond as children die from preventable and treatable infections because they don’t have safe water is to look the other way again as an innocent victim’s life is squandered.
We can curtail malnutrition, prevent disease, and reduce poverty. We can support new methods of sustainable farming. We can promote girls’ education and gender equality. But it all depends on the foundation of clean water and sanitation – even peace cannot be achieved when some have and others don’t have something as basic to life as water.
And the good news is, unlike many complicated problems, the solutions to this global crisis really are within our reach. We have the technology. We can be the leaders needed. What’s unconscionable for us as Christians is taking for granted our access to clean water and sanitation while a solvable deadly crisis continues to decimate people across this shared globe.
I met this young boy twice while doing missionary work at a medical clinic in Tegucigalpa in 2010 and 2011. I visited him just a few days before he died. The house where his mother and extended family live is a thriving house church today.
If you would like to know more about our work at Camp Bethel, go to our website www.simple-matters.org.