I painted her nails and made silly faces at her. I tickled her, sang her songs, bounced her on my knee, gave her toys -- anything and everything to make her smile and get that incredibly heartbreaking expression off of her face. I’m normally great with kids, so I didn’t understand why she wasn’t responding to me. I just wanted to make her happy and then go out and play with her and the rest of the kids. But Rosaline isn't like the rest of the kids.
I got back to our hotel that evening and couldn’t get the image of Rosaline’s expressionless face out of my mind. I had nightmares thinking about Rosaline and wondering just what was so “off” about her. Had she suffered abuse? Did she have some form of mental disability? Was she just not feeling well that day?
After learning and doing a little research about worms and parasites in Haiti, everything clicked. Rosaline is the prime example. She has a swollen belly, yet her arms and legs are very thin. She looks and acts as if she's had the life sucked out of her. From the little food Rosaline receives every day, the parasites steal about 20 percent of that food intake. This leaves her malnourished and it also affects her brain. These parasites actually alter the chemistry of the brain, which contributes to slower development and a much lower performance in school.
How do children like Rosaline get these parasites in their system?
Just imagine the dust after the earthquake three years ago. Michael, our Haitian translator, described to me how the entire city of Port-au-Prince was fully covered in a cloud. The parasite spores live in the dust and in the unclean drinking water. There was no way to protect yourself from ingesting them once the earthquake hit. Now, the spores from the parasites are still everywhere. If you already have a weak immune system, just sitting in the dirt is a way they can be ingested. It's still hard to prevent even though the Haitian people know they are supposed to wash their hands, keep their fingernails clean, wash their food, fully cook their meat, and avoid the dirt. That would be easy to do in a developed country. But not everyone has access to clean, running water, and I can tell you firsthand that dirt isn't always the easiest thing to avoid in Haiti.