In the framework of Terre des hommes’ specialist treatment programme,Caroline Barbier-Mueller, head of a communications agency in Geneva and involved for many years with sick children, went to visit our projects in Morocco. She now gives a moving account of it and appeals to everyone’s generosity to carry on supporting this ‘Journey towards Life’, from which each year more than 250 children can benefit, thanks to the work of Terre des hommes.
“On May 26th 2014, at the Geneva Airport I joined Pascal Pittet of Terre des hommes (Tdh) and three Moroccans – two children aged 5 and 15 and a young mother – who had had surgery here in Switzerland and who we would be accompanying back home. Even though I’ve been involved in this Tdh programme for years, this time I really started my own ‘Journey towards Life’.
Some years ago I saw a bit of this ‘Journey’ when welcoming a little girl from Mauritania. A little face with two huge eyes and bluish lips, hugging a big pink Barbie backpack, she left the arms of an escort for those of a volunteer who placed her in the car to take her to a hospital where she would be examined for her heart disorder. Despite all the smiles and approaches, she stayed silent. Serious. Overwhelmed. When I had to go and leave her sitting on a big white bed, watching motionless the flurry of nurses around her, my heart ached. What did she understand? A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to see this little girl once more in Massongex. Her lips were no longer blue and her eyes sparkled. The operation had gone well and she was proud and happy to be amongst her new friends until she could go home to Africa when fully recovered.
This 26th of May, I had the chance to takeFadma, Salaheddine and Adam back to their families. You could feel little Adam’s excitement as he jumped around, and Fadma’s deep emotion on doing this journey for the third time; she is a young mother with two children of her own. At the airport of Casablanca they were all awaited by their children, parents, grandparents and cousins. And such touching reunions they were, too. Little Adam found he could talk in his Arabian mother-tongue again (he had refused to speak it for months), quiet Salaheddine’s eyes were wet, and Fadma hugged her babies to her heart, that beat only for them.
Our first task done, it was now time to continue our trip on to Rabat, where Amina and Najla from Terre des hommes Morocco were waiting for us. We soon met some parents and their sick children. Khadija, Youssef, Soukayna – different paths but the same fight. Very poor people from far away, most of them illiterate and powerless against the suffering of their children, but with a burning desire to get treatment for them.
Amina, a nurse and social worker, observes, listens and speaks to every person. She knows the pathology well enough, but she has to understand the family context, as it is useless to operate on a child whose family circle has no true awareness of what it must do afterwards to ensure the child’s future. Gently and firmly she makes sure that all the families fully understand what is at stake. She goes to see them at home, and goes back again and again. Because the children she takes into her care are looked after like her own.
Then we leave to go to the University Hospital in Rabat. Accompanied by a former colleague, a social worker at the hospital, Amina leads us through the maze of corridors to the paediatric ward to meet some recently operated children. Arms full of dolls and cuddly toys that I give the kids, I’m so happy to see the smiles that light up their faces. Amina, whose eyes are everywhere, picks out 10-year-old Rachid and 6-year-old Imane, two children with more complex conditions who may require treatment in Switzerland. She talks for a long time with the doctor about the possibility of including them in the ‘Journey towards Life’ programme, and prepares dossiers for if and when the need arises.
Now we’ve a little time to meet the Tdh delegate for a meal before leaving for Salé, 20km from the centre of Rabat, to visit two children back home again after surgery. I listen to the dossier of the first child and . . . surprise! It’s Hicham – an 18-month-old boy – and I know him! Suddenly I recall his enormous black eyes in a bluish face creased with pain . . . and a pink bootee. I met him in Geneva some months ago. Waiting for his operation, he was so calm. I watched him for a while before going into the room, so as not to make him nervous. His little fingers had got hold of his knitted bootee and, as if hypnotized, were trying to take it off. He looked so small, so vulnerable . . Hicham. And now here he was, before our very eyes – so big, so beautiful. Shyly he watched us from behind his mother’s skirts, in the one and only room that is his and his family’s home. He points to the plane flying far overhead by shouting “Hicham in there!” And then he goes to play just like any other boy of his age. Only the gratitude in the eyes of his relatives and Amina’s questions remind us that he’s a living miracle. However, the terrible poverty in which these people live – the women working in the fields for 15 cents a day, no running water, and only a solitary electric socket on the wall bearing witness to the century we are in – worries Amina, who comes back to bring them some basic necessities to help a little.
14-year-old Fatima, who we see next, has also gone further on her journey towards life. She is learning dressmaking, and her parents are so happy to have her back that she may eat everything she wants . . . risking new health problems, as Amina warns them. She will have to watch them closely!
This day, together with those spent in Switzerland in the context of this programme, goes far beyond anything I could have imagined.
These children are living miracles. With their parents they climbed mountains. They found people who could help them, the people who are some of the links in this great chain of solidarity who, with their commitment, their knowledge, availability, their fighting spirit and donations have made it possible to give this ‘Journey towards Life’.
13,000 children have already received surgery in Europe during the past 50 years in the framework of this Terre des hommesprogramme, most of them in Switzerland. Each of their stories is different. Each child is unique. And so on behalf of Fadma, Adam, Salaheddine, Khadija, Youssef, Soukayna, Rachid, Imen, Hicham, Fatima and all the others, but above all for those who will need this help in the future, let’s go on with the fight to give them this ‘Journey towards Life’.
Our own lives will be enriched for it.”
Every year, Terre des hommes offers sustainable solutions and a better future for over two million children and their relatives. Help us protect these children – make a donation now.