Behind the Bandana

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Last time I touched on the remote, impoverished village in the northern region of Nicaragua called Albellanas and the eye-opening day I met a little girl named Brenda. That day, the last day we would stay in Albellanas on our short trip to the community, has impacted the way I see the world even today.

While packing up to leave in the open-air school that had been turned into our team’s makeshift sleeping quarters, a woman approached a few of our team members. On the outside, the woman was calm, but on the inside she appeared to be carrying something very heavy and anxiety-inducing. After finding a translator, she began speaking frantically about one of the children who had been coloring with the team earlier that morning. We would come to find out that this worried woman was Brenda’s mother.

Brenda, a beautiful light skinned little Nicaraguan girl from the community, appeared to be like any other elementary school child. She enjoyed playing and interacting with the group, and seemed healthy from an outsiders perspective. The only difference was the bandana she wore around her head, but none of us assumed it was anything more than a fashion accessory. We would come to learn that is was doing much more than keeping her hair back.

As Brenda’s mother continued to talk, explaining that her daughter had a medical issue that she did not know how to address, she began to remove the bandana from Brenda’s head. Carefully pulling it away from her head, the mother revealed a serious wound that covered at least half of Brenda’s almost hairless scalp.

We would later come to find out that this was a bacterial infection typically caused by exposure to horse or cow manure. Unfortunately, these types of infections were not uncommon in rural communities affected by extreme poverty due to their lack of access to clean water and hygiene items. When you bathe in the same water as the animals it is hard to avoid exposure to infection causing bacteria. When you also often drink that same water your likelihood of illness is almost a foregone conclusion.

In Brenda’s case, the bacterial infection had eaten away at what was once a full head of hair. However, the bigger issue was the possibility that the infection could eventually travel to the brain through the bloodstream, causing disability if not death.

Beginning to cry, Brenda’s mom desperately pleased with us to do something about what she had no power to change on her own. The sad reality is that in communities like Albellanas these tears of desperation often go unheard by any person who can help. Child mortality rates, from what are easily treatable illnesses for most of the world, are tragically high in places suffering from extreme poverty. Brenda easily could have been a part of these statistics had what I believe was a divinely appointed moment not occurred.

“Please help my daughter”, she said in Spanish as she looked into the eyes of her daughter’s only hope apart from a miracle. Discussing a plan to help Brenda, we determined that taking her to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, a trip of over three hours, was the only legitimate option. While there were health clinics in nearby towns such as Sebaco, none of them would more than likely have the staff, medicine, and equipment necessary to address this serious situation. The only solution was to take Brenda from the only place she had ever known.

After coming to this conclusion, the team told the mother that the only option was for her and her daughter to travel back to Managua with the group of “Gringos” they had just met. Without hesitation, the worried mother agreed to the life-saving plan.

Brenda, who had lived all of her short life in an adobe house without electricity or running water, was about to travel through generations of civilizational advancements in one afternoon.

Upon saying goodbye to the people of Albellanas, the team and their two guests jumped in the rented Toyota pick-up trucks to head to Managua. This was the first of many “firsts” for Brenda who had never been in a car. As we left Albellanas, I could not help but wonder if Brenda and her mother were full of hope, fear, or some combination of the two. I would later learn that this trip would produce life-changing hope in the heart of this beautiful, young girl.

More on the rest of Brenda’s journey next time.

– James Belt

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