ISL Tanzania: Little Mommy

In Costa Rica, we celebrate Mother’s Day on August 15, and in preparation for this year’s celebration of motherhood, the memory of an incident that I witnessed in Tanzania involving a baby girl and her “little mommy” came to mind:

We were serving in Tanzania, and I saw these two beautiful girls outside of the ISL field clinic, so I went to greet them. The oldest was 7 or 8 years old, and the baby girl was 3 or 4. I saw that the baby girl’s left eye was completely held shut by a crusty, dried secretion. I looked for gauze and cleaned her eye. Once cleaned, she made the effort of opening it little by little. I wanted to examine her eye using a pen light when, all of a sudden, as if in a Stephen King script, her eye ball popped out, and she caught it with her little hand!

Her eye cavity continued secreting as she held the eyeball in her hand. My heart stopped! Those seconds felt like centuries…I grabbed more gauze and continued to clean the area. Her 7-8 year old sister helped the baby girl insert the eye back in the socket. At that moment, I realized it was an artificial eye.

I called a translator and found out that girls’ mother was a “street worker” in Dar es Salam and the girls are often left alone, so the 7-8 year old is the “real mommy,” the one who takes care of the baby girl daily, who had dressed her in her best dress that morning, and brought her to see us, the “American doctors.”

Unfortunately “little mommy” could not provide details about the baby girl’s condition. We cleaned her up and gave her tons of gauze, and advised “little mommy” on how to take care of the artificial eye. ISL contacted the ophthalmology department at the Kibosho Hospital, and they agreed to help the baby girl and her “little mommy” with eye cleanings and checkups every so often.

All of the above happened so quickly; my heart and mind could not grasp every dimension of the situation in that moment. However, my heart went out to “little mommy” too. I wanted her to be a kid herself, so I gave her and the baby girl coloring books and crayons, and in that moment, both were kids again.

~Dr. Sonia Hernandez, ISL International Programs Director