In my hand a small piece of an earthworm squirmed as I tried to drop it in the mouth of baby bird that had fallen out of the nest in front of my room. I felt nauseated but the plight of the bird seemed stronger than that of the worm and so I persisted. Jen chuckled and taunted in the background as she is not sure what to make of me sometimes. The chance of survival for this ugly little thing was slim but in both of our eyes allowing it to suffer hours of starvation was harder than feeding it worms. Suddenly our chuckles were interrupted by terrible screaming. There were two voices outside, one young and fearful the other deep and enraged. We ran to the door in time to hear loud cracks. A bit fearful we pushed open the door and became for a moment frozen as a man stood with piece of hose snipped at both ends arm raised biceps bulging and sweat pouring from his back as he brought down with all the force his shoulder and arm could muster a blow to the child’s back. The child was begging for mercy with tears on her cheeks. What do you do in a moment like that? With only an instant of hesitation to note the fear I had inside, I lept out into the walk way with a voice I did not know I had. The man turned on me and I was no longer afraid I was furious. His eyes wavered between rage and shock. The only thing between me and the whip were my words and the knowledge he had that I was a doctor. Even in Honduras it is against the law to abuse children. I’d be lying if I told you I said something profound, I did not. I spoke the truth about beating children words I once spoke because I was taught them words I now spoke because I understood them. The shock took away his power. His necessity to justify his actions deflated his rage. Jen came behind me pulling me back with enough force to bruise my arm…….. it was done. He walked away yelling back at me to mind my own business this is Honduras not America, blah blah blah. Jen called me foolish, and maybe that’s true, but I could not let a man hide behind the concept of cultural moray to protect himself from his own in ability to deal with self generated anger while he committed an atrocity. My sadness comes from my sense of powerlessness to protect this child from future beatings.
Children look to their parents for protection, food, shelter and guidance. The psychological damage that is generated by having the only people in the world you trust turn on you and hurt you is enormous. Violence of any kind teaches a child they can not trust anyone, it teaches them that the way to control people is through fear, it takes away self esteem because children are concrete thinkers, life is black or white, I’m bad or good, I’m lovable or I am not lovable, if I’m being beaten I must be all bad, I must not be lovable…….if I was lovable I wouldn’t be beaten. In America many people hide behind the saying “well I was beaten and I turned out okay”,..…I beg the right to ask the question…when they look in the mirror at night are they really okay, or have they strived for an entire lifetime to overcome the injuries of childhood. I can not argue against the fact that physical and mental violence can be effective control mechanisms, but I do say there are other ways Educating parents on effective parenting techniques is the one thing that can be done not just here but in America in our inner cities in our suburbs. Remember, the woman I spoke of last year whose children were shot and one of them was locked under a hut for 4 years while the father tried to starve him. She too beat her children, it was a problem. We spent a lot of time talking with her and teaching her other ways. They paid for her to attend adult education classes. She learned to read, she gained hope for a better life, she obtained tools to deal with her feelings, she doesn’t beat her children any more…...
That night the bird died.
After a week of inner silence I have come to a realization. When I was a child the first thing that caused me to want to be a physician was my frustration with my inability to save the baby peeps my parents purchased for our farm. Several died without an obvious cause. I buried each one with a little cross of sticks and prayed for God to take care of them and if he could maybe someday would he help me to know how to fix them. Here I am finishing my training, I have finally reached what I thought was the top of mountain and I can’t save the damn birds. I cried…..
I recognize that I have not reached the top of the mountain only a small perch along the way. I accept that I may still not save the bird or the child but if I continue to try there will be some that will benefit like the woman from the plantel if all of us try there will be many who will benefit……….