Field Note August 11, 2015

Faces and Voices


Walking up from the beach on vacation after returning from my first trip to Madagascar, I looked down and noticed two things: the red dirt on my sneakers and the road pavement. The former is abundant in Madagascar, the latter not so much.

In some ways, Madagascar is a world apart. Its biodiversity is striking, and so, too, is its poverty. The scale of suffering and dying from poverty and disease is overwhelming. Perhaps in order to cope, I found myself shifting focus between the natural beauty of the place and the suffering of the people.

I’m not a medical professional, so I was at a loss as to what I could do to help. I kept busy with staff meetings and facilities tours. We distributed coats that had been donated by classmates of our board members’ children, and I helped with that.

Beyond that, I was a witness to suffering: the mother with a sick child who did not have money to pay for medicine, the elderly man carried by family members from his village to the district hospital, and the little girl whose conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) had progressed to the point that she might lose her eye. I did what I could. I was present. I offered a smile, a word of encouragement, whatever small measure of support that I could. I was struck by how often and easily people smiled at me. As a parent, I related to the parents of the sick children. Their anguish and the cries of their children hit me in the gut.

PIVOT holds every life as precious, invaluable, and irreplaceable. Our staff on the ground in the Ifanadiana district of Madagascar is caring for the poorest of the poor. I witnessed the life-saving work being carried out and the health systems building that will sustain that work in the future. Each latrine built, each ambulance referral made, each child recorded with a healthy weight marks progress.

The dirt on my shoes is fading, and I barely notice the road pavement now, but the faces and voices of the people remain fresh in my mind and heart.