When we don’t even know that we can hope

Photo #1:

You might remember Frederick from some previous facebook posts. He is a local kid who has been unofficially adopted by the mission staff. He is 12-years-old and when I arrived in Togo 4 months ago, he still had both legs. In fact, he was walking, although not well. Just like most boys his age, he enjoyed playing soccer.Those kids off in the distance, they would have been his teammates if it weren’t for a bone infection.

Bone infections, called osteomyelitis are not unique to this part of the world, or to developing countries. They happen in the US too, but they often go untreated for prolonged periods of time here for a few reasons.

In Frederick’s case, it started like most cases of osteomyelitis do here, with a skin infection that was untreated, probably some innocuous looking break in the skin that got infected, then went to his bone. When it goes untreated for too long it becomes chronic osteomyelitis. Chronic osteomyelitis, to quote our Pediatrician here at the mission hospital, Russ Ebersole, is the bane of my existence. When Dr. Ebersole says this, which he has on more than one occasion, I can tell that he means it, because his upper lip gets tight an he practically spits the word osteomyeltis. I’m learning to feel the same way, because the stories too often end the same way. Months and months of trying to save a dying extremity, with painful daily dressing changes, dangerously high doses of antibiotics, all at a huge cost of the family, just because we are trying to avoid amputating the leg.

But then we end up waiting too long, the infection spreads, and instead of amputating a foot or ankle, we end up taking a knee or half a femur. Why do we wait too long? Because there are either no means to obtain prosthesis, or no knowledge that they exist.

Photo #2:


I don’t know her name. She doesn’t know mine. I just know her because she is my neighbor. Kind of. This young woman lives in the small mountain valley that our hospital shares with the hundreds of coffee sharecroppers that surround us.

I was walking to a nearby waterfall, admiring all of the ripe coffee beans (actually they are the bright red cherries that hide a green coffee bean inside) when we came across this lovely young lady quietly harvesting beans by hand. Christine Penny, a fellow medical missionary from Canada asked her if we could take a picture of her with her harvest. She proudly posed with her delicate harvest for a few photos.

We thanked her and began walking away. As I turned my back to her, she asked me something. Not speaking much of her language, I turned to Chris who said “I think she is asking if you have any candy.”

I shook my head know, but I pulled out a sweet green apple. Her eyes lit up. She gratefully accepted my gift and went back to picking. We walked a little up the trail to catch up with the rest of our hiking party, and my guide said to me, “That’s almost worth a days wages to her.”

The sad truth is that here in Togo, many coffee harvesters make less than $1 a day picking beans. They are vastly underpaid by any standard, and there are a complex set of reasons for this. However, direct- or even fair-trade, are not concepts that have probably even been mentioned to our local coffee harvesters.

The link

I’m not sure how, but somehow, I feel like these two stories are linked. I feel like if I can figure out how, I might be able to restore some hope for both of these gentle children who don’t even know what to hope for.

In the coming weeks, as I start investigating these two stories, and search for the convergence, I will be posting updates on this blog. Please join me and share this blog with others.

Get excited, get hopeful. If we can change the world for even these two people, it will be worth the effort.

Zach Greenlee

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