Editorial Note: this is a report from our relief team in Haiti. We do not usually pass on distressing encounters in our work, but have decided to publish this unaltered. The photo goes with the story and is the one referred to as being taken by the relief team. Please do not read on unless you are prepared for an upsetting story.
"Once more we are making our way through one of the many tent cities. For four weeks now, people have been living here in very close quarters, surviving on almost nothing. A man takes us to one of the most derelict tents. There is a woman lying on the floor, her three children sitting hunched over next to her, two girls and a boy. Their mother's movements are slow, weak and contantly interrupted by coughing fits. She has AIDS and does not have more than a few days or weeks to live. Her children know she is ill and that she can hardly take care of them, so the oldest daughter has naturally taken on most of the responsibility for her brother and sister. We explain who we are, what we do. The mother listens closely and tells us that the children still have an uncle who might be able to look after them some day, when things have become less chaotic and unpredictable. But right now, she's worried and afraid about what will happen to her children if she dies, if she simply doesn't wake up one morning. If only she knew that her children were well and being cared for, she would be so grateful.
We promise to take good care of her children and that their uncle can come and see them any time, or they could go and visit him, depending on how the situation develops. She listens attentively and seems to smile weakly from time to time. Slowly, but with a fully concentrated and grave demeanor, she starts to put together her children's papers, everything we need. She does this in the knowledge that her children will be safe and protected with us, but she is also fully aware that due to her illness, this may well be the last time she sees them.
She tells the children she would go with them, but is just too weak, but that their uncle will come and see them, and perhaps, if she's feeling better, she will come, too. When everything is ready, she sits up to have her picture taken together with her children and gives them one last smile to be remembered by. "