Sometimes even after many years of working here we have a sudden “aha” moment when we understand more in depth the true nature of living in poverty and living knowing that you simply “cannot”. Yesterday we had such a lesson to learn and it struck quite a few of us (not just Michael and I but a few of our team here too) with force and a bit of pain.
A young couple walked in to the office in the morning in their 30s with a young curly headed child. The lady was walking with a limp and barely collapsed into the chair. She rested a few moments before she started talking. Michael and Gevork were out at that moment so I settled down to listen to her. They asked me who we help and what with. I explained that we help families with little or no income with food parcels, clothes and so on. She told me how their need was not food or clothes and up to this point in time her husband had worked faithfully and had provided for them. However now everything was different. She told me how they have been going round any and every charity they can find in Yerevan trying to get medical help. She lay out all her medical papers. I soon discovered that the woman was in desperate need, a need out of our league. The poor woman has been diagnosed with scoliosis – curvature of the spine, which is getting progressively worse. She had some pains after getting married but the birth of the child made everything much worse. She finally went to the doctors and they diagnosed her and told her she needs an extensive and complicated surgery, which requires expertise possibly not found in Armenia. The costs would run into the thousands of pounds and would possibly require a sponsor to take her abroad to find good doctors. It was one of those situations where I feel completely out of depth and after listening and feeling for her pain, I sent her away with a few other suggestions as to who she could apply to and promised to ring her if I hear of any other help.
That afternoon, Michael, Gevork and I went out to do some bank work and some shopping. When we got back to the building I noticed a young woman in her 30s, carrying in to our building, with much difficulty a man. A man, not a boy. She had him in her arms and with much struggling she was trying to fit the thin, tall man also in his 30s through our door. I rushed to open the door and we soon had the poor man settled into an armchair. The man, Garen, was wincing with pain, he could barely talk. The woman that carried him in was his sister. There was a small, helpless looking wiry woman with them too – their mother. Garen, we learnt, had been born with scoliosis. At 8 he was still running round and nothing had been diagnosed. But by 18 they knew something was wrong. He could still walk but was in dire pain. By about 20 he could no longer walk. Now in his 30s he is bedridden, only his arms work in crude motions and his whole body is full of pain. They live in a domik – a metal container – on the suburb of town. They have no running water. Incontinence pads, food, spare bedding, warm blankets – make such a difference in their lives. Unlike the couple in the morning, these people had no hope of any cure or operation, they were simply asking for food and clothes. Reconciled to pain.
All of a sudden (the aha moment I mentioned) all of us in the office knew that this was the future that the woman in the morning was staring at. In the West, we have grown up with the mindset that “something can be done about it.” You are ill – the doctors will make it better. You are in pain – there are painkillers. Not in this world. Not in the world of the poor person. Sometimes nothing can be done about it. That is probably the most difficult part of our work – to look at a need, to feel the pain, to see the tears, and not be able to help.