“No one should ever have to be
a human in Chad – better to
be a bird or a tree.”
In late June I left Chad. It had been a hectic ending, and I would work until I boarded the plane that evening – but even in all of the craziness I had time to reflect on my last few months here, and the impact that Medecins Sans Frontieres has as a humanitarian organization.
Earlier in the week, I sat outside one of the tents of the malnutrition hospital, taking a rare break with our health promoter, Youssouf. We were sipping painfully sweet tea when we heard the cries of a mother who had just lost her child.
Unfortunately, during my three months here, this has been a frequent sound. Living in the hospital compound, these are the cries that often wake me at night.
In response to the mother’s cries, Youssouf said, “She cries, and then with all of the other mothers she will pray. Pray that the child will return as a bird or as a tree, but not as a human.”
I pondered the cultural significance of this, wondered if it is bad luck to return two consecutive times as a human. In the end, I asked for clarification.
“No one wants to have to do this again,” he said. “No one should ever have to be a human in Chad – better to be a bird or a tree.” The words stayed with me, and they haunted me later in the night.
They gave me a better insight into why mothers refuse to have their children transferred to the hospital. They made me think about what we do, and what we are trying to achieve. They made me sad for the state of the world, or at least the state of Chad.
As long as there are places in this world where life is perceived as so painful that parents pray their dead child will return as anything but a human, there is work to be done.
During this mission, more so than on any other mission, there have been nights when I have been tormented by the preventable deaths of the children in this country.
My manager has often reminded me that for every child that dies in the malnutrition program, there are hundreds that are saved – and if we were not here, most of the children in the program would end up dying.
Now we just have to work towards making life more bearable once a child is saved – making it worthy of returning to life as a human in Chad.
Leaving Massakory was hard. Leaving missions is always hard, but this time it was particularly hard knowing that I am going to school and won’t be on a mission again for two years.
As exhausting and taxing as this work is, there is nothing in this world I would rather do.
As we pulled away from Massakory, I wondered about the future of our national staff and of the children and mothers in the malnutrition hospital.
I wondered about the overall future of Chad. I hope for the day that when a child does die, the prayers of the mother can be different. I can hope, but hope can only do so much.
Tricia Newport is a nurse who lives in Whitehorse. This is the last of a series of dispatches from Chad.