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Pulling Together.


Pulling Together.

Allison Brown

I want to convince you of the strength of the family as a system, and why it's more than the sum of its parts.  We often think about "caring for vulnerable children" while our mind leaves the family out entirely.  In our heads it often means building institutions to house orphans.  Most often, it should mean something other than that.  It's always more cost-effective to intervene early on in the pipeline.  The struggles that commonly precede disaster are often preventable.  This is a basic business principle, but it applies to people, families, and communities too.  

A few examples, just to rev things up.  In our medical clinics, we screen for cervical cancer and intervene surgically to remove precancerous lesions, instead of waiting for them to become malignant.  In our schools, when student performance begins to drop, we schedule parent-teacher meetings and arrange tutoring, instead of waiting until we pass out a failing report card.  On the ranch, we administer treatment for parasites to our livestock on a monthly basis, instead of waiting for an animal to show signs of parasitosis. And in our churches, we count Sunday's offering in front of the church, instead of waiting for accusations of impropriety.     

So what does it look like to "care for vulnerable children" early on in the pipeline by supporting the family as a system? Well, first, let's get out the dictionary.  A system is :

1. A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. 2. An organism or body considered as a whole, especially with regard to its vital processes or functions.

Right, ok.  That is a paradigm that helps me to understand the choices that families sometimes make for their well-being as a unit, rather than as individuals.  So sending Juan to work the fields, which brings $2 home to the family that day, instead of sending Juan to school, which deprives the family of that potential income -- that decision makes sense in the context of a system that values "everyone pulling together."  We could jump down the parents' throats and claim negligence or violation of the minor's human rights, call child protective services, and make ready a bed in our children's home. (FYI, We don't do that.) 

Or, we could offer the child an opportunity to go to school and receive a weekly stipend that compensates for the loss of the family's potential income due to their child's school enrollment. Yeah, we do that, and that is an example of how to care for vulnerable children while strengthening family resilience.  

Another, different example, and fair warning, this ends on a solemn note.  A few weeks ago near the beach in Cedeño, we met, through the church, a family with a 15yo girl whose name means "Strength." The family was concerned about their daughter because she was not healing from a fracture in her leg.  She had lost weight, was weak and lethargic, and in pain.  For the last six months the family had seen several doctors but weren't getting answers.  

We decided to work with the family to manage the case.  We found out this morning from specialists that "Strength" has osteosarcoma.  It's in her lungs; it's in her stomach.  Surgery and chemo are not options.  Palliative care is.     

The greatest sadnesses of the world are the situations whose course cannot be altered.  How do we care for this vulnerable child, how do we support this family? Our impotence in the face of the diagnosis does not diminish the power of our availability to offer spiritual support.  Where we can not alleviate suffering, we will accompany the family through their sorrow, so that they do not walk it alone.  

I am in awe of the perseverance that this family has displayed in pursuing answers for their daughter's illness.  The answer they found is a terribly sad one, but we are by their side, and, for as long as is necessary, we will all "pull together."  

As an organization, we honor the struggle and the resilience of families.  We support you, and where love runs deep, we dare not dismember.  Please pray for "Strength" and her family.  It is going to be what makes the difference.