Translating pain

Today I am republishing a post written by my friend Laura Hershberger. Laura is working in El Salvador with the SHARE Foundation, and is sponsored there by the Volunteer Missionary Movement or VMM. (More about VMM below). Laura's blog post is titled Back pain:
This is a reflection on the week in June that I spent as a medical interpreter at the clinic at Maria Madre de los Pobres Catholic Church in La Chacra, San Salvador. The medical professionals who I interpreted for come to El Salvador everyone on a SHARE delegation from Visitation Parish in Kansas City.

She was a street vendor who walked around carrying a giant tub of juice cans. The pain in her heals was unbearable.

He threw his back out six years ago. He still has horrible pain. He thought it was cancer. But really it was the fact that he lifted tires everyday and put more and more strain on his back.

She lost her arm during the war. Her husband just had a stroke and is paralyzed, she now does everything for him and work to support them. She can't sleep from back pain.

She was hit by a motorcycle two years ago. She and her daughter and grandson received death threats until the boy fled the community. They cried when they talked about being afraid. They both have knee and back pain.

She didn't know that there is no pill for her mother's alzheimer's. I explained it to her as best as I could.

His knees are shot from arthritus. But he needs the factory job, and so he continues to climb up steps and lift stacks of metal plates.

She can't afford the medicine for her Parkinson's. She came to see if we would give her a cane.

One by one, they sat down with us. Soy Laura y voy a traducir. Supposedly a translator is just a tool for the doctor, but the pain they carried stuck to me and I couldn't forget after they left. Everyone was carrying some kind of pain. We taught them leg, knee, back and neck exercises. To strengthen and stretch. To give some relief. Something that could possibly be more sustainable to a pill. We were able to give some of them canes. We hoped it would work. But we couldn't give them new shoes, new floors to walk on or beds to sleep on. We couldn't give them access to a swimming pool to do their exercises. We couldn't give them new jobs or new homes. We couldn't take them out of La Chacra and the poverty and violence. We could teach some breathing techniques but we couldn't take away the stressors.

On Friday, after all the patient visits, we went with the group to the UCA to see the sacred site. On the wall there was a drawing I had never seen on previous visits. Stick figures going through their day to day life. Working in construction, repairing cars, walking through the market. Each one was drawn with a cross on their back. The cross that the poor person carries as they go through their day. No one is going to give them a break, a win. The cross gets heavier and it weighs them down. No wonder they all have back pain.

Laura is one of several lay missionaries who commit to spend two years in Central America or other parts of the world (including poverty-stricken areas in the US) with VMM. Their purpose is to act out the call of their faith to serve those who are poor, oppressed and suffering. I support VMM and serve on its board. I encourage readers of this blog to learn more about VMM on its website at, then consider supporting VMM by getting involved, volunteering, or making a donation. You can help Laura and others like her to alleviate some of the pains of the world.


Unknown said…
The Declaration of Solidarity for a Unified Movement for the Right to Health demands health as a right.

The declaration was published on the Partners In Health (PIH)web site. "Pathologies of Power" by PIH's founder Paul Farmer, MD is a must read about the interweaving of the movement of the right to health with liberation theology teachings of "the preferential option for the poor." He provides case studies from Haiti (where he has his home clinic in Cange), Russia, and Chiapas.

The web site is

Part of the declaration's text concerning health as a right follows:

"Health is an inalienable human right. It is a right that carries national and international duties to provide access to health services for all human beings, regardless of the ability to pay and must be free from discrimination. People have the right to progressively achieve higher standards of health. The right to health also encompasses the social determinants of health—the right to the living conditions necessary for good health, including food security, adequate housing, safe water and sanitation.

The right to health is indivisible—all conditions and disease and the factors that cause them must be addressed in a comprehensive, coordinated strategy. Thus, the movement for the right to health cannot be divided by disease, mental or physical disability, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, age, marital status, primary language, sexual orientation or immigration status.

The right to health requires that people are placed at the center of health systems and have a right to participate in decisions that affect their health; it requires that special attention be paid to marginalized and vulnerable populations; that governments secure the sexual and reproductive health needs of women, men and youth; and that governments be accountable to their people."

After reviewing the declaration and the anguishing content of the post, a deficiency in the declaration could be raised in it not pointing out that hazardous occupational safety conditions must be remedied as much as remediating external environmental factors, typically understood to be public health matters.
Gatofilo said…
In so many countries and places with so much need, anything positive that one does to give a helping hand has and immediate and noticeable effect.

And it’s uplifting to know that there are still those who care enough to give of themselves so very unselfishly.

Doing unto these, the most helpless, is like doing it for God. It's what really matters.
Gatofilo said…
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Gatofilo said…
Tim, you should know by now that evil rejects holiness and goodness of man toward man.

Evil thrives on hatred and envy, and so of course no one will make a comment on this Post topic.

If you want lots and lots of comments, simply talk about class hatred, envy toward others, social resentment, and the insecurity embedded into the phyche of the so-called "useful fools."
Unknown said…
Is it the case that the previous poster believes that all social grievances-if he believes that there are such a thing as social grievances--are the product of "envy" and "class hatred"?

What of the "envy" and race hatred of those Europeans purportedly bringing the "progress" of the agro-export industry(land theft?) uprooting entire indigenous communities?

As for the need for compassion across the board, I'm in total agreement.
Gatofilo said…
To the above post:

Undeniably, every socio economic grievance and injustice has been rooted in one historical fact or another.

If humanity chooses to dwell on the negative and rehash old and banal injustices, we'd simply be beating a dead horse.

There are those who propose that we learn from history so we will not repeat those same errors. They continue to suggest that all to the contrary, we should use these past experiences to progress and make life better for all.

Then there are those who find it easier to simply blame others for their failed lives, and they fortify their insecurities with envy, hatred, a victim mentality, and social resentment.

These most unfortunate souls live out their lives in a te3rrible time warp filled with self pity, and a hatred toward those who have surpassed the obstacles that life presents and have made a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

The key to success in life is certainly not envy, class hatred, self pity, insecurity, and social resentment, but rather the key to happiness comes with education and the act of giving of oneself and lending a helping hand to others less fortunate.