A photographer’s first voyage on ICHF’s first Babyheart medical mission to Skopje, Macedonia
Humanitarian missions are a labor of love, with equal parts of each. They’re also full of hows… How are things going to go, how will the kids do, how is the culture different to what I’m used to? There’s an excitement to not knowing any of these things and a similar excitement as the answer to each question is found through experience.
There are always two aspects to any mission. The external aspects that generate the questions above and the internal aspect of team and patient where there are no questions at all. I KNOW the team is here to fight for the patient, I KNOW the skills of each individual is beyond question, I KNOW the mother and family of each child we see loves their kid with the utmost intensity. I KNOW what’s at stake.
Macedonia, from my perspective, was a beautiful experience. After a grueling flight from Denver I was rewarded by a pretty morning and short drive from the airport to the hotel where the team was staying. No matter where I go, the drive from the airport to the city always sets my impression of a place and this drive was no exception. We passed small parcels of land that had obviously been farmed for a long time, new housing developments and older homes long abandoned. I saw old men fishing in what looked like drainage canals and groups of kids playing basketball at a graffiti covered rec area. I saw in abundance what I call “the sameness” of everywhere I’ve ever been, people going about their day, working hard to support their families. The thing that was different here, was the destruction. There are places you had to look for it but there are small reminders in Skopje of the devastating earthquake in 1963 that set this country back so far. The best example is the train station in Downtown Skopje that was left as it stood the day of the quake, stopped clock and all.
My job as photographer is twofold, to document what the team is doing to show both the world and you as a donor the good works you make possible and to give the kids and their families a voice. It’s a visual voice but that’s enough to start a dialog between them and the viewer. I feel this is the most important aspect of my job, to make that connection between two people who will probably never meet, between two people, one in desperate need for help and one who CAN help. Here in Macedonia there were no shortage of children in need of lifesaving help and fortunately a team here who could provide that help, the Babyheart medical mission team.
On my first day I was introduced to a woman and her son who’s story was tragic. I wish I could post photos of her son but at her request I won’t. She had had 6 miscarriages and her little boy with the sick heart is her last chance at having a child in her life. Even though her son was scared at being poked and prodded and apprehensive about the army of strangers around him, you could tell he was all boy inside. You could also tell the bond he had with his mother was deep and unshakable. Although I can’t go into too much detail about his case, I can tell you his story had a happy ending…
There were 11 cases done on this mission. I’m unique as far as the team goes because I can’t compartmentalize. Each medical team member has a specific role to play, surgeon, scrub, cardiologist, SICU… I am a participant in my own way for the entire case. I’m there in the beginning for the screening, I’m in the OR for the procedure, I wait with the family for their child to come up from surgery, I’m there in the SICU post op when a family member gets to come in and see their baby for the first time and hopefully I get to come back at some point and see a happy healthy kid playing at his home. This breadth of experience gives me a unique position to be able to comment on the miracles that the ICHF team does with your support. Every volunteer and donor should be proud of the lives they touch because saving innocent children is the highest calling a person can answer.
The stories of each of the families on this mission was different and compelling. As the photographer, I have the privilege (sometimes curse) of really getting to know the families. I share their joy when cases go well and their grief when there’s nothing that can be done. I hope through my pictures from this trip, you’re able to share some of that too.
Babyheart photographer and guest blogger