Monday, August 13, 2012

When it's all up to you

One of the things I don’t expect to get used to about life in a poor country is witnessing suffering without being able to do much about it.
No country is free of suffering, of course. Abuse, isolation, cruelty, hunger – there’s nowhere in the world that gets a free pass on such things.
But at least in countries like Canada and the U.S., there’s some organization or government body that you can protest to, some cage to rattle on behalf of whatever suffering person or animal has got your attention. Not here.
Yesterday morning, for instance, I came across a bony, sick horse while on one of my bird rambles in the hills. She had several festering sores on her back that were covered in flies, which she couldn’t even brush away because her tail was snarled around a big thorny stick she’d picked up while wandering through the bushes.
Back in the city where I came from, I can think of five or six different groups I could phone to do something about a sick, abandoned horse. Victoria responds to suffering animals with significantly more compassion than it does to suffering people, so with only a couple of phone calls I could probably get a poor old horse like that a front-page media story, immediate veterinary care and a happy new home before day’s end.
Here, the best I could do was approach the wary horse gently from behind and pull the thorn stick out of her tail. Even if I’d had a halter at the ready and a place to lead her, chances are she has an owner – a lot of the pathetic, starved looking livestock and pets around Copan have owners, many of them rather pathetic and starved-looking themselves – who wouldn’t take kindly to me leading his horse away. And it’s not like there’s an SPCA to lodge a complaint with or to step up with a home for an underfed horse.
I saw a skinny pig a couple weeks ago on one of the subsistence farms I visited through my work, drained by the eight piglets it was nursing. Trust me, you never want to see a skinny pig. Any creature that has just given birth around here – pig, dog, cow or impoverished villager – tends to look pretty skeletal. Virtually every day I see hungry-looking people and animals that could really use a good meal, a hot bath and a few kind words.
But there’s nobody to come to their rescue. There’s me and whatever resources I might be able to bring to a situation in the moment, and any other passing strangers who react in similar ways. I’m certainly not alone in trying to step up to alleviate some of the unnecessary suffering that goes on here, but it still comes down to one person and whatever they're able to do.
There’s no organized animal rescue. No real children’s welfare organization. No shelters or food programs, no rights organizations battling on behalf of neglected horses, exploited women, hungry children, desperate families. In truth, there’s no one to go to battle with anyway, because the Honduras government really doesn’t have much interest in any of this stuff and can handle public shaming with barely a blink.
 My socially minded acquaintances would probably tell me that all anyone can do in this world is “plant seeds” and do the best they can. I’m there philosophically, but such sentiments aren’t much comfort in the moment, when you’re looking at a horse facing death from starvation and infection and all you can do is pull a stick out of its tail. Or press 20 lempiras into the hand of the old, old woman with the arthritic knees. Or take young orphans to a swimming pool every couple of weeks, as if that alone could ever change the course of their sad, challenged lives.
A person has to try, of course. It’s you or nothing, after all. You quickly feel the weight of personal responsibility here in Honduras.
On the upside, it’s always good to know what you’re capable of. In my old life, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have stood within easy kicking distance of a strange horse and pulled on its tail. I doubt I would have pulled five ticks off a neighbourhood dog that paused on our patio for food. I certainly wouldn’t have spent hours in a pool entertaining young children I’m not related to.
Last summer, I came across a wounded seagull lying on a lawn near my house in Victoria. I carried him home in complete confidence that I would find some animal-welfare organization to collect the gull and look after it until it healed, because that’s how it is in the land where I come from. And of course, that’s exactly what happened (thank you, Wild ARC).
I bet the hungry families and neglected animals of Honduras would get quite a rueful laugh out of that story. Pick-up vet service for a dime-a-dozen gull, and they can’t even count on their next meal. I’m grateful for how much we care for our own in Canada, but sometimes it just makes you more aware of how little there is for the rest of the world. 


Anonymous said...

WOW.....very impacting. I just know visiting Mexico, the children and animals were extremely difficult (this is of course on my trips that weren't in a 5 star resort). With your kind heart and caring as much as you do, i can't imagine what it would be like to live it....Thank you for shedding light on such a part of life there. I don't think there are any other words i can say except that as much as you are missed here, you are such a gift there...

Dianne said...

Jody, I am reminded of the starfish story. The child said she/he knew they made a difference to the one starfish thrown back into the sea.

You are making a difference & putting yourself out there. I much admire you & think of you when I'm hanging out with the gals at SMH. Blessings.

Unknown said...

Last year in Belize I saw a very sick little dog, she was soooo skinny it hurt to even think about feeding my own body while she sat and watched. I swear she was one second away from death. I went online and found an organization and sent them an email and within one hour they showed up and gave that dog the shots she needed. By the time we left Belize that little dog didn't look like she was going to die, I think she gained five pounds over a couple of days. It turned out to be expats who were running that organization. Maybe, just maybe someone is down there that is doing such work. I never thought that I would find someone when I looked and never ever thought that someone do something.

Owen Gray said...

It's been nearly 35 years since my wife and I visited Haiti. My wife had worked in Africa before we were married, so she had seen what I saw for the first time.

But I had never seen such overwhelming poverty. When we walked out on the street, we would be surrounded by 25 begging children.

It was then I vowed that I would do what I could, for as long as I could -- knowing that there were so many that I couldn't help.

e.a.f. said...

I have been enjoying your column. It opens peoples' eyes as to what is going on in the world.

In the case of reading about Hondorous, we see what happens when governments aren't interested in the needs of the citizens. Hondorous is the trickle down theory at its best. It hasn't worked. The government & wealthy are only concerned about themselves. This is what happens when the theories that Harper, Romney, etc. espouse are put into action, poverty, extreme poverty.

from reading your columns it is clear you have made an impact on the people around you. Thank you for making the world a better place.