I went to Cebu, Philippines in my early thirties. I was invited to visit a midwifery program where my friend, Carolina, worked. It was stationed in the most impoverished part of the city. Families (mother, father, children) lived in homes the size of a large dining room table or a guestroom bathroom; made of cardboard and built on pallets.
The water was filthy and the streets had streams trickling through gutters for disposing various polutions. Children were barely clothed and rarely bathed.
The medical shelter had a breakfast and lunch program for children who were severely malnourished.
One day, I placed my water bottle on a shelf while helping with the meal program. Louis, a tiny 5 year old who was deaf and mute, would push and slap as a way of communicating. He began to push and slap me, making loud groans and squeals.
“Louis. Louis. What is it?”
He pointed to my water bottle. He wanted me to give it to him. The children were given beverages, food, snacks and water.
“Oh Louis. No, no. That’s my water bottle. There is your drink.”
He reacted strongly, continuing to make loud shrieks, pointing, jumping and flailing his arms. I tried to calm him down. He was determined to have my water bottle.
I paused. I looked at him. I looked around me.
All these malnourished children. Impoverished. They had nothing. They lived in cardboard homes. They didn’t bathe. They had physical ailments, low immune systems and are fighting for their lives.
AND I WON’T GIVE LOUIS MY WATER BOTTLE?!!
I grabbed my water bottle. I bent down so our eyes could talk to each other. He can’t hear me. He can’t speak.
“Louis – you can have my water bottle. Yes, please, you can have my water bottle. I’m so sorry, Louis. Forgive me, I was thoughtless. Here you go. It’s yours. I’m very happy to give it to you.”
Louis took my water bottle and ran around the room, showing all the kids. He was so proud that he was the only child with a water bottle.
This memory is a regret of mine. Although it ended on a positive note, I don’t like how small-minded I was. I don’t like me in this story. I don’t like that I said, “no, that’s my water bottle” – to a child who has nothing and I have all the lifestyle comforts at my disposal. I hate that I said “no.” Can’t take it back. Wish I could.
May I always choose generosity over my own personal comforts.
– Karen Thrall