The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).
A Drop in the Ocean
As a medical student volunteering with TTL for the month of February, I met one of our recent new arrivals on my first morning at the safehome. While playing with the children outside, one of the bo’me approached me and placed Thuso on my lap while she tended to another child. I was immediately alarmed at how limp he was as he lay in my arms. His body was thin and wasted and he had absolutely no muscle tone as he gazed listlessly into space. Upon asking the bo’me his age, I was alarmed to learn that this child was already over a year old. His growth was so stunted by malnutrition that he appeared several months younger and only weighed 5.5 kg (12 pounds). Although my medical training in the U.S. had never exposed me to anything near this severity of malnutrition, Thuso’s stick-thin limbs, protruding abdomen, swollen feet and thin, discolored hair would quickly become familiar signs to me as I encountered more children suffering from malnutrition as they were brought to the safehome and during outreach trips.
Thuso’s mother had reportedly abandoned the family at 3 months of age, and he was being cared for by his grandmother before the TTL outreach team brought him to the safehome due to signs of severe malnutrition along with a fever and cough. He spent a week in the hospital receiving antibiotics for pneumonia along with nutritional supplementation before returning to the safehome. Thuso’s fever and cough have since improved and although it may take several months for him to recover to a healthy weight, he is already looking much better. The boy who was too lethargic to even hold up his head when I first met him is now sitting up on his own, laughing, and interacting with the other children.
While working at the hospital, I have come to realize that many basic medications and diagnostic tests are simply not available here. It is incredibly frustrating to know that there are patients dying every day because of a lack of what are in many parts of the world considered to be routine treatments. Likewise, seeing children like Thuso who are dying of malnourishment produces a reaction of disbelief and outrage to those of us who are not accustomed to witnessing the effects of such a severe lack of resources. While it is common knowledge that such problems are present throughout much of the world, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of the crisis until seeing it firsthand.
The number of children in Lesotho impacted by malnutrition can initially seem overwhelming, but TTL’s motto of “one child at a time” reminds us that although we have a long way to go in combating HIV and malnourishment in the children of Lesotho, every child that TTL supports is worth the effort. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” I continue to be impressed by the bo’me at the safehome who provide such loving care to the children of the safehome, and I know that they will continue to focus the same amount of effort and attention on each new child that arrives. As TTL continues to expand, more and more children like Thuso who might not survive without assistance will be given the chance to flourish through the efforts of our outreach and safehome workers.
Teresa Backes is a 4th year medical student at the University of Missouri. She spent the month of February volunteering at TTL and the Mokhotlong hospital. TTL appreciates all her suggestions and love shown towards the children.