How Much $35 Really Is

In the language of nonprofits, we throw around terms like “poverty” and “at-risk” on a daily basis. Though we may not want to admit it, these words start to lose their gravity after a while. But then on some days, these words reemerge in real life stories and smack you in the face. This has been one of those days.

Last week one of our moms, a women I’ve come to care for and respect deeply because of her immense love for her 3 children, her work ethic (she works 7 days a week for about $90 a month), and her kind and gentle nature, got sick. Really sick. All we know right know is that there is something wrong with her kidneys, an infection that caused her entire body to swell up and make her almost unrecognizable. Because she is part of our Casita Copán family, we immediately took her to the doctor who promptly prescribed a myriad of tests, an ultrasound, iron shots for anemia, and a ton of injections and pills. She is currently in Guatemala (where the doctors are better and the tests cheaper) with one of our staff members getting her ultrasound. We are awaiting the results.

Before she came to pick up her kids, this mom knew that she was sick. She knew that she didn’t have the 200 lemps ($10) to visit the doctor and really didn’t have the 700 lemps ($35) to pay for the tests the doctor prescribed. She was terrified to take the day off of work to go get the tests done because she thought her boss would find someone new to replace her. This was not an unfounded fear. Things like that happen all the time. She admitted how scared she felt, with no one to talk to, with no one in her family who was willing to support her. Even with our financial support of her medical expenses, she still felt burdened by a choice between potentially losing the job she needs to support her 3 kids or pursuing the medical treatment that could save her life.

This has been a humbling week. A week where everything feels like it’s been put into a bit of perspective. I have hit many financial roadblocks in my life and been forced to pay for food on my credit card, allow my medical bills to go unpaid and my debt accumulate, and swallow my pride to ask my parents to borrow money. Each of these roadblocks was disheartening and humiliating, but at least I  had options. At least I had people I could turn to. It’s hard to imagine a world in which $35 could be a choice between life and death. But this is the world we live in.  This story of one of our Casita Copan moms is unfortunately not unique. Which makes it all the more impossible to fully grasp.

I am not offering this story with any solution to a problem that is so widespread and endemic. I only offer it as a point to ponder, a story that can hopefully make you pause and appreciate the options you have. I think it is something that people who are more privileged (who sometimes reject the notion that they are, in fact, privileged) forget to do from time to time. Think about how much $35 is really worth.