Powdered milk can’t save the world

Kaya Hartley - Senegal

December 16, 2011

Bilat is my three year old cousin. We’ve recently adopted him and his 5 year old sister into our family because his mother is mentally ill and left him to his father, who chose not to raise his two kids. The kids here play rough, and quite often fight rough. Bilat, being the youngest, is usually the victim of the kids lashing out in anger. Countless times I’ve seen him being pushed, hit, and beat upon. I break up the fights as soon as I can, but it almost appears that I’m not needed.

Just the other day, my younger brother Assam slammed our metal door right into Bilat’s head pretty hard. I would have cried had it happened to me, but Bilat hardly even acknowledged the pain, got up rather quickly, and walked away – not because Bilat feels no pain, but because he is so accustomed to it. It’s quite obvious that Bilat is malnourished, his skinny arms and legs and balloon belly is something seen quite often. There will be times I am playing with him and he will just stop what he’s doing, stand there squeezing his eyes shut in pain. Other times he’ll randomly burst into tears, or more like hysterical crying, I’ve tried asking my family if they knew the causes. But like so many issues are viewed here, I was told that “It’s just the way it is.”

I tried looking up ways I could help Bilat, But I’m extremely inexperienced in the medical sector and only found an article by Doctors Without Borders stating that malnutrition can be solved by eating animal bi-products. So I tried doing just that, except here in Senegal the only animal bi-product I have easy access to is powdered milk. My breakfast every morning is a baguette and a cup of powdered milk, and recently Bilat has been the receptor of my morning drink in attempts to ease his pain.

But that’s ALL I can do, and I know that it’s not enough. This is a small example of a bigger problem I’ve been struggling with in my stay in Senegal- I see so many struggles, injustices, and problems thrown right in my face. I see corruption in the government, abuse, hunger, and sexism, all complicatedly twisted into religion and tradition. Sometimes it’s difficult to be able to clearly see what I could possibly contribute to improve the living situation of the people here. I’m just an American, born and raised in privilege, coming into a third world country right after finishing high school, struggling to learn the language. I came intending to leave Senegal a better place than I found it, but as cliché as it may sound, the real lasting change that is happening is within myself. I am more fully understanding what it will take in order to really improve anything. I am being exposed to the reality, and now I can return to the United States where I can pursue my education and form my future with a clear knowledge of what it will take in order to make a positive impact. I am setting down the foundation of building REAL change, and I am learning every day.

Kaya Hartley