Healing to be healed
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 17:02
When it’s 95 degrees outside and the air is so humid that you feel like you have to drink it in, it can be pretty difficult to think straight. But the moment she looked at me with a broken smile and said, “Thank you,” with her voice cracking as she began to cry, I had one crystal clear thought. I knew what my career would be.
I knew I wanted to be a doctor.
I, along with nine others, had spent the past 10 days giving school supplies, clothes and shoes to school children in the blistering heat and humidity of Central America.
I had been to Costa Rica before, but it felt new this time. Something was different. I had arrived expectant, and I refused to leave without gaining something more than I had the year before.
I didn’t know it would take everything out of me.
We went from school to school, giving notebooks, pencils, crayons and hope foreducation to every child we could find.
It was only three hours by car from Monte Verde, but I remember the village on the border of Nicaragua feeling further away from normalcy than anything else I had experienced.
We began unloading school supplies, as a man kept a watchful eye with a Glock obviously tucked into his waist. A pre-teen girl walked over to him and he grabbed her, kissing her on the mouth. She looked up at him with a fear I’d never seen before.
Later, I learned that she, along with more than 15 of the other girls in the village, were used as prostitutes to seal drug deals between the cartels in Nicaragua and the northern border of Costa Rica. My family has an unfortunate close history with sexual abuse; my eyes burned with tears and anger when I learned what their adolescent years would entail.
Never in my life had I wanted to help someone more, but I had never felt so useless. In that moment, I knew things would not change for her if I refused to act on my hopelessness.
We stayed at a hotel that night on the beach in Jaco. Black sand and four-foot swells made for a peacefully breathtaking view, but I couldn’t shake what had happened earlier that day.
I spent the night painfully aware of my own spoiled existence, with cockroaches at the foot of the bed. I don’t remember if I slept.
In the morning, our group leader called us together and made an announcement. For the next three days, we would be working with a group of volunteer doctors and social workers to take teenage prostitutes off of the streets of the surrounding areas and set them up in rehabilitation and recovery centers. Many of them were on heroin to keep them from running away. They would be able to leave the country with job placements our coordinator had prepared.
We would help them start new lives at the age of 15.
I aided doctors with performing physical and psychological checkups on all the girls who came through. Most didn’t speak. Half were high – a small portion yelling and screaming while going through withdrawal.
The doctors’ hands were kind and caring – gentle on severely bruised and broken bodies filled with lice and sores.
I am grateful to be the daughter of a Spanish teacher. There was little language barrier. I learned more in those three days than I had in any science class. Physical, emotional and mental health radiated from the doctors as they helped those girls heal. I’ve never seen a human so passionate about what they were doing. I basked in every second of it.
On our last day, we said goodbye to the girls, two of whom I had come to know pretty well. One wrote me a letter, addressed to “Janna,” in which she wrote that my hair was prettier than a treasure box full of gold and we had shown her kindness – kindness she had never known.
She told me she had faith she could have a happy life now, and it was because of us.
She handed the letter to me with teary eyes, empty of the fear I saw in the young girl from the village. I thought of how small the number 15 was compared to the number of lives spent in the hell of a different stranger’s hands every night. As I read it – so long labored over – I thought also of how big a number it was to each girl there. Here was a problem and my future, a solution to it – something I could do to change a life, or many.
Medicine embodies everything I had learned in those three days. It was a tool I could use to heal others while healing myself. I knew then what I would do for the rest of my life.