My team and I had just finished a scouting mission in a not yet mapped mountain village near Marfranc. It was about a mile and a half uphill walk from the foot of the mountain by the river. Most of the road was too narrow for vehicles.
By the time we made it to the village, there was nothing left of me. I was groosly out of shape and weighed in at about 230 pounds back then.
For many of the children it was the first time they had ever seen a blanc (white person). While our team who spoke creole discussed with the villagers about the possibilities of building a school, well and medical clinic I found myself taking pictures of the village and the children.
When we were done, it was time to go down the mountain and back to our pick up truck. By now the noonday sun was near it's apex and the further down we went, the hotter it felt. There were three little girls following us and giggling as they went. One of the team members named Larry spoke a little creole and chatted with the girls. They do this walk every day to get water from the river at the foot of the mountain for their family. A mile and a half downhill with empty jugs and a mile and half uphill with full jugs. Every day. Not in school, not playing, no electricity, no education, just the mountain every day.
They had a baby brother and a mother. No father.
I knew the stats. One in five children die within a week of birth. So they beat that stat. One in 4 will die of malnutrition by the age of 15. One in four will die by violence by the age of 18. One in three girls will be raped and an alarmingly high statistic of that rape will happen at the hands of UN aid workers and other aid workers there to "help".
So by the numbers alone we have one of these little girls that will make it to 18. If a school gets made there and a clinic and a well, she may have education and medicine to enter her adult world in a nation with an over 80% unemployment rate with a 1 in 49 chance of death by childbirth every time she has a child to raise them in these statistics.
I loved their smiles and their laughter, but this thought haunted me as they asked us with delight if we would come back.
Larry said yes and he meant it.
I said 'oui' knowing it was a mensonge.
They smiled. I broke a little inside and tried to treasure every step down to the river.