Monday, April 30, 2007

Immortal Words

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn

Call it a eulogy if you like. Or a final chapter. At the very least, call it a testimony to the inescapable way we become connected to one another.

When Kelly and I met Marta,* neither of us was aware of the bittersweet legacy that had already been set in motion.

Only 26, Marta had the weary demeanor of someone 60 years older. She was a frail woman, “tiny and sullen” as writer Scott Cotter remembered from meeting her in 2003.

Scott first met Marta, her three sons and her husband when they lived in a tiny mud shack, or baharaque. He didn’t know it then, but inside that stagnant, musty shack, a fatal disease was incubating, preparing to spread through Marta’s body.

When Kelly and I visited her four years later, her family was living in a sturdy cinder-block home provided by our organization. Her children were in good spirits, giggling as they ran in and out of the house, but their mother, weighed down by fatigue, could only manage a smirk for a smile.

Repeating the recent events of her life, Marta’s face played out a range of emotions. It brightened when she said, “Children International has helped us a lot with school supplies, with the house they’ve given us, and everything I’ve needed.” It dimmed when she remarked, “With my sickness, they’ve helped me with that as well.

“I’ve been fighting this disease for four years,” she later pointed out, careful not to name the illness for fear of yielding even more power to its presence. “I suffer. My children suffer.”

We all sat in silence. We knew that Marta was suffering from AIDS. We tried to encourage her, but our sentiments fell flat. Our words were simply too little, too late.

Marta, brave and humble, admitted that all she really needed was a fence around her home so her children could safely play when she was no longer there to look after them. Kelly and I exchanged glances, a reminder to do what we could when we returned to Kansas City.

A week later, Marta died.

She had gone to the hospital for medicine but was turned away, dismissed as a lost cause. Defeated, she returned home and lay down in bed.

Sensing her time was near, Marta called for José Luis, the sponsorship area supervisor who had been her friend, confidante and caregiver ever since she contracted the disease. When José arrived, Marta made one final request...“Please,” she gasped, “take care of my children until they grow up and keep them in every CI program. Never let them down.”

Back in Kansas City, we made arrangements to transfer the money needed to build a fence for her family. News of her passing arrived the following day.

It’s hard for me to believe that Marta was only 26 when she died. Her life to that point had not been easy, and I am humbled by her final words. They are a lasting testament to a mother who struggled to care for her children at all costs. And they will live as a permanent reminder that like her, there are many deserving people, noble in their own right, who desperately need our help.

Listen as Marta shares her final thoughts about living with AIDS and the impact it had on her children.

*Her name was changed to protect the privacy of her family.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such a touching story. I can't imagien being a mother and having to live with the knowledge that I would have to leave my children behind.

Damon said...

Thanks for voicing your concern. Outside of her family and our staff, your kind words may just be the only recognition Marta will ever receive. But I firmly believe that she, and many others like her, experience dignity despite poverty, thanks to the support and solace sponsors like you help provide.