A Nameless Tragedy

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a young mother who has just seen a nine-month-old little girl die in her arms—to die from something as simple as simple as diarrhea? My wife, who is a registered nurse, tells me that the official “cause of death” was actually dehydration, but it was a result of diarrhea which was a result of not having clean water to drink. It’s a tragic but preventable chain reaction. Bear with me briefly as I try to put this in context for you.

Where to start? My wife and I have worked in the Amazon Jungle in Peru for nearly 10 years. I started out teaching a leadership training and development course, and my wife always has a makeshift clinic wherever we go. Angela documents every person she treats; she notes the illness, the treatment and the likely cause. It came to our attention that 85 percent of everything she treated could be traced to a contaminated water supply and poor hygiene habits.

She gave out pills or liquids that would help the symptoms and even had treatments that would kill the parasites that cause the distended stomachs. We would leave the village feeling pretty good about the whole situation until we started revisiting villages and found that children had died since the last time we were there. We realized that we were treating symptoms of the problem but leaving the problem free to take more innocent victims. That’s when we found that the infant mortality rate where we work is a shocking 50 percent, and the average life span is only 47 years old.

There is a lady in the Candoshi Tribe that is 30 years old; she has had 13 children but only eight of them lived. This is not atypical in the native communities; in fact it is all too common a story. The story was so common that we were moved to action; we knew we had to attack the cause and not the consequence.

We had to learn how to drill fresh water.

That’s where Living Water International comes in. We were trained, equipped and sent back out to the Amazon post haste; they did an amazing job. In no time at all we were off drilling wells and teaching health and hygiene, truly attacking the problem this time. It’s amazing to see the differences in some of the villages we have worked in.

But getting back to my opening sentence, we are not always in time to have the desired impact. That was the case in a little village named Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa is a Chayahuita village; we have worked more closely with the Chay than we have any other people group, but this was our first attempt to drill in this remote area.

Santa Rosa is on a little creek called Yamanayacu which runs into a river called the Pananapura. I know that these names don’t really have a lot of meaning to you but the fact that everyone of these places and rivers have names is significant because the nine-month-old little girl that died didn’t. Her mother had a name, Marlena; but Marlena had not yet named the little girl because the Indians often don’t name their children until they reach the age of two. They don’t name them because so many of them die, and somehow, in their minds, the fact that the child doesn’t have a name makes it a little more bearable.

My team headed out on what should have been a four-day trip to Santa Rosa; except it took us five days. We should have arrived a day earlier but the Amanayacu didn’t have enough water to allow passage for our canoes. We camped on the river bank and thought that perhaps we would have to cancel the trip to Santa Rosa and pick another village on the Pananapura that was accessible. Amazingly, it rained that night and the river came up nearly 10 feet, and at daybreak we were able to head on up as planned—just a little later than we had planned.

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A little later is significant because when we arrived the villagers were not on the riverbank to greet us like they normally are. We climbed the bank and asked some of the children where all the villagers were; they pointed toward a thatch roof. We asked them why everyone was there; that’s when they told us that the little girl had just died. If you remember the “cause of death” which has dehydration due to diarrhea, you quickly realize what a difference just one day would have made. Angela would have been able to treat the child and likely save her life. We were crushed, and honestly, we questioned God.

There was another little boy about the same age with the same symptoms in the village, and all the people were waiting for his imminent death but Angela was able to intervene and in just a couple of days, the little boy was OK. The chief of the village came to Angela and asked what the “magical cure” was that she used to save the child. You know what it was? Essentially it was water and Pepto Bismol.

We searched for answers; why would God have held us up at the mouth of the Amanayacu just long enough to allow this little nameless child to die? I still don’t have that answer, but I do believe that little girl is in heaven, and I think that she wants her story told.

I share this with you to so that you might understand that drilling fresh water wells and teaching health and hygiene in the Amazon Jungle is not some great adventure for thrill seekers or someone’s “feel good” project—it’s literally life and death for thousands of innocent Indians whose only line of defense is someone to care enough to come; to come and drill, to come and teach, to come and love, to come and inspire hope.

You can learn more about Living Water International but visiting their website, www.water.cc.

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