Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Oxygen Mask

On my recent flight to Guatemala to visit our Finding Freedom mothers, the airline stewardess announced the same message that I've heard countless times.

 "In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it."

Finding Freedom has nothing to do with the airline industry, but we both understand the same basic precedent.

If a parent does not have their basic needs met, oxygen being one of them, they can't begin to care for their children. 
With limited, if any, social services available in rural Guatemala, the death of a single parent means orphaned children live with whatever relative will agree to house them. Upon the international ban on adoptions from Guatemala in 2009, orphanages are full. The future for an orphan is grim, as it is throughout the world.
Catarina was one of those parents who was at the end of her oxygen mask output...literally, and after being abandoned by her husband because she was TB positive, Catarina was the only parent of three girls. 

When she first came into our program, Catarina was malnourished, and she suffered from TB, hepatitis and chronic asthma. Lack of oxygen made breathing so difficult for this mother that she was not able to work in the fields. She had no income, very little food and three young children who depended on her for all of their needs. Catarina's medical and situational crisis was so acute that it was hard to know where our priorities should be in helping her. 

Catarina with asthma meds
We started by helping her to breathe. 
We hospitalized her, and paid for her medical care when she almost died from an acute asthma attack. We supplied her with inhalant medications that she now uses daily, in the nebulizer we donated. We have fed her children one meal a day for the last three years.

Donated stove

 In May of 2011 our donated stove cut down on her respiratory infections, since she no longer had to inhale smoke when cooking. Finding Freedom also donated a house for the family, therefore reducing the mold and dust once the family started living on a concrete floor instead of dirt. A water filter was an essential donation, to prevent further Hepatitis infection. We have paid her children's educational expenses. 

So happy for her school supplies!
How many financial resources has this one family taken out of our program?
 A lot. 
Including Catarina and her children in Finding Freedom has meant extra trips to the local doctor, more funding for medicines, and emergency trips to the hospital in rented vans.  We had to find designated donors to help with medical supplies, the stove and medicines. None of the children have sponsors for school, meaning that we fund all of the educational supplies, uniforms, fees and shoes for her three girls. 
We measure progress in our program not by how much money is left in our bank account, but by the health and well-being of the women and their children whom we assist. 
By this measure, we have done our job. The children are safe and healthy, Catarina is gaining weight and has stayed out of the local hospital for over a year. When I said good-bye to her in January, Catarina tearfully mentioned that she felt she would have died without our help. As a nurse, I know this to be true. 
This family is not without their challenges. Life is hard in rural Guatemala, and as an illiterate Mayan woman who does not speak Spanish, Catarina will always struggle to find work. But the family is together, her health is improved, and she can breathe.

Catarina and daughters in January 2014.