The Great Tiny Baby Rescue
"When we say 'God loves you,' " says Sal Vargas, who helps his brother run Hope of Life, "it's not just words—it's love in action."
One of the children carried across the river has died. Nelson was 19 months old, the child of a young mother who traveled down from the mountain and crossed the river with him. She had come wearing a lilac shawl over a colorful cotton dress—Sunday best for a somber day. After Nelson arrived, the effects of his malnutrition worsened, and staff decided to send him to the hospital an hour away. He died on the way.
Today we are holding a small service for him outside the center. A miniature casket covered in silky white cloth sits open atop a table surrounded by vases of plastic flowers. Yeatts offers a short message of comfort to the gently weeping mother and the handful assembled. Vargas translates for Yeatts into Spanish, and a center volunteer translates it to the mother's Mayan dialect. Nelson was her only child. His father, like many villagers, did not want his son taken to the rescue center. His son's death will reinforce his fears, perhaps making it likely that others will delay getting help for their sick children until it is too late. In communities where word circulates with surprising reach and speed, Vargas must now try even harder to build trust.
The first children I meet at Hope of Life are Lady and Alicia. They are playing outside the orphanage with other children in the morning sunlight before school. Sisters ages 9 and 10, they have thick, shiny black hair and warm brown skin. But when they were brought to the rescue center five years ago from a remote village, their skin hung on their visible bones like sackcloth.
They had been abandoned by their mother and father in their grandmother's care. She tied them to a bed with ropes when she left them to earn money by washing clothes. Today, they glow with life and joy as they play with the other orphans. They attend school at Hope of Life, which will also cover the girls' college tuition should they choose to go.
Nelson may have had these opportunities, too, had he been rescued in time. Or perhaps if the hospital had been closer, as soon it will be. Built in partnership with World Help, Hope of Life is completing St. Luke's Hospital, rising six stories, topped by a helicopter pad, equipped to meet the needs of the children who come to the Baby Rescue Center, and others as well. Much of the medical equipment has been provided, in large part through a U.S. program that allows organizations like World Help to claim unused and unneeded military surplus. Once the hospital is open, children like Nelson will have an even greater hope for life.
These babies, those babies, all unbearably light. They are there, they are here. They exist, whether we see them or not, slender shafts of life eclipsed by the dark weight of the world.