Peace Care Blog

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“Hunger pains”

September 8, 2013
Author: Shannon Galvin, Northwestern/Access to Health Infectious Disease specialistToday’s focus group took place in Bateye 80.  About half the bateyes go by numbers, others have names – Peligrosa, Santa Rosa, Como Quiera.  How the names are earned is unclear and whether they are points of pride or not is equally unclear.  Bateyes are green.  Sugar cane fields spread in every direction, interspersed with trees and hibiscus plants.  Concentrations of about 10-20 houses arise periodically – the bateyes.  The houses themselves are painted green; small wood structures filled to overflowing with children with women tending cooking fires outside, as most bateyes have no power and no running water.  The communal latrines are also usually a greenish blue and usually the only structure with fresh coat of paint other than the very small churches lovingly maintained.

Cane cutters and their wives comprised the focus group in Bateye 80.  About 20 people attended, with about 25 children acting as spectators outside the meeting area.  The gang of children, occassionally shooed away by an elder, would just continuously reform on the least punitive side.  We all introduced ourselves, doctors from Chicago, Peace Corps volunteers, youth leaders, bateye members.  One of the youth volunteers who lives in Bateye 80, Angel, translated our Spanish into Creole.  We described the project: a collaboration between Chicago universities, local groups such as Peace Corps, and the community.  We informed the group that we are not here to provide medicine or food, but want to identify common themes regarding ways to improve health, pick one or two areas to improve upon, and then follow up the results and continue to improve.  Whether the bateye residents thought this concept was good or bad or ridiculous is unknown, but the description was met with polite nods and attention.

They shared their concerns openly with us.  Not unlike patients from the U.S., they spoke of transportation difficulties to/from the hospital.  They lamented how once they get to the hospital, wait times are long, doctors do not look up from their papers or do much examination, and they are given prescriptions for some unknown medication they can’t afford anyway, so they leave not much better off than when they came.  They are aware of health promoters and a mobile clinic van, but can’t state what services it provides or when it might have last came.  Responses pour out when asked about what medical conditions they experience in the batey: pain! Headaches, stomach pains, back pains, etc.  One man angrily summarizes: “I’ll tell you what pain is the most common, the pain of hunger.  What do you Americans know about hunger, you are all fat. Here we are with the pain of hunger all day, all night, while working in the fields, always always there.”  All others in the group agreed and nodded yes.

Indeed, I feel the opposite of hungry.  I’ve been gratuitously well fed and healthy.  I began to feel like my stomach is full of cotton candy made of lead as I listened to them, and a sense of shame and humility and fear of failing them rose, along with memories of all the things I have spent my life doing that did nothing to ease anyone’s pain of hunger.

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