An Innocent Victim

An Innocent Victim

By: Brandy Campbell, with Tania Mendes in Brazil   |   Posted: May 12, 2008

Mother's Mental Illness Brings Challenges to Child
As a little boy, Eloim began the difficult task of caring for his mentally ill mother. Now, Compassion offers the family support, and Eloim is finally learning what it means to be a child, not a caregiver.

Eloim creeps across the dirt floor of his family's home, stepping carefully over the broken dishes his mother, Ana Lucia, shattered against the wall. It is quiet now, and Ana Lucia crouches in the middle of the room, her hair spilling over her face. Eloim moves closer and closer until he can hear her ragged breathing. He lays his head against Ana Lucia's knee, and she looks at him with bloodshot eyes. "I'm so sorry," Ana Lucia whispers. "I know, Mama," he whispers, patting her tear-streaked face. "I know." But a little boy can't understand the mental illness that drives his mother to wild outbursts. All Eloim knows is that sometimes his mommy gets angry. So angry that he and his sister must flee to their grandmother's house. He can't understand the chemical imbalance that causes his mother's wild mood swings. He just knows that she feels better when she takes her medicine.

But most times, Ana Lucia's medicine bottles were empty. When she scraped together enough money to visit doctors, they told her she had "sofrer dos nervos" (suffering nerves). The small bottle of antidepressants they prescribed were expensive. Ana Lucia couldn't work if she wasn't on her medication, and she couldn't afford her medication unless she worked. Ana Lucia simply couldn't escape the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle

If it wasn't for the help of the Centro Estudantil Presbiteriano Gamaliel Student Center that cycle would have continued. When Eloim was enrolled there, the entire family soon benefited from the support of his sponsor and the center staff.

That support took many financial burdens off of his mother. But center staff knew that Eloim would still suffer if Ana Lucia was not healthy. He needed a mother to care for his needs to encourage him to do his homework, to prepare his meals, and to keep their home clean. So center staff assisted Ana Lucia in registering for a government program that would cover the cost of her medication and treatment.

Ana Lucia now takes her medication daily, and she is able to receive regular psychiatric care from a local clinic. Center staff members visit her often, offering both physical and spiritual support. "I don't worry about my children as much," says Ana Lucia. "I know at the project they are receiving good food, education, and they have the opportunity to learn about God. They even give special attention to me. The project director comes to visit me, prays with me, and gives me advice and encouragement. Compassion is making the difference to my kids and to me."

Looking Out for Eloim

Free from the burden of caring for his sick mother, Eloim's life has been transformed. The haunted look that once shrouded the 7-year-old's eyes is gone. Eloim still watches out for his mother, bringing her a glass of water and her medicine each morning. But now he also plays marbles with his friends at the child development center. When his mother is ill, he knows that the center staff will help, often offering shelter for Eloim and his sister while their mother is hospitalized.

Most important, Eloim believes that through the support of his sponsor, he himself will one day provide the things for his mother that his family lacked. "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up," says Eloim. "I just want to help my mama. I think one day I will give her a beautiful home. I want to make her proud of me."

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