A modern tale of change: the nameless girl with the big head who’s brief life touched the lives of many

Posted on January 22, 2011


The child without a name by Mads Nissen, Berlingske

What would you do, if you saw this picture in the news paper on a fine Sunday morning? Really, think about it.

A picture that changed lives

The 19th September 2010 thousands of readers of one of the major Danish news papers Berlingske Tidende were presented with this picture taken by Mads Nissen over their morning coffee or in the train commuting to work. For one woman that very picture changed her life. One woman was impelled to act and so she did.

This is a story about how a single picture and the story behind it, invoked the inner change-maker of one reader inducing her to take action; and it is a story about how the tale of one individual, however brief her life was, touched the lives of many.

Toddler left to die on a chair in a hospital storage room

The picture portrays a small girl left for her own, on a chair in a storage room at a hospital in Nepal. She is one year and a half of age but does not have a name. She is never played with, held, or cared for. She has hardly ever been outside of the storage room. She was born with hydrocephalus, a disease that filled her head with water. In the west this is not a life-sentence, but in Nepal it might be if you have little means. The staff called her ‘Ghane,’ which means ‘large head,’ or ‘Moto’, meaning ‘fatty.’ By birth she was abandoned by her mother, and no orphanage would take her in due to her disease. So she ended up on this chair in a storage room at the local hospital, nameless and alone. Unable to move, she had developed a penetrating bedsore and her spine was damaged; only her eyes were lively and interacting with her surroundings. ‘Nobody knows what takes place behind these slightly fearful eyes’ the caption under the picture stated. The doctors had given up on her, just praying that her life – waiting on the chair – would be as brief as possible. Clearly the picture not only tells the blunt and harsh truth of a small girl’s incomprehensible unjust fate, it also tells the story of the unfortunate outcomes of massive poverty and world-political inequalities which are some of the major challenges of our time. This beautiful little girl gave many Danes something to think about.

One reader took action: moving out of comfort zones to assist someone in need

And for one woman, Cecilie M. Hansen, she not only made her think, she made her act. Cecilie simply could not accept this heartbreaking reality taking place. The restlessness and frustration from witnessing such passivity and irresponsibility regarding the girl’s situation, made this Danish mother on maternity leave from her carer job in a large, global corporation, embark on a journey to the other side of the planet to help the girl on the photo; a journey for which she could not foresee the slightest hints of it’s unfolding, but only react step by step.

Over a short intense period of time in the capital of Nepal, Katmandu, many things took place regarding the little girl’s life. She was named Victoria. For the first time in her life, she got to spend a night sleeping next to someone caring for her, and got dressed in nice, clean clothing just meant for her. For the first time in her life she was caressed, cared for, and talked too. A Nepalese international renowned doctor was on board to perform the highly complicated and risky procedures to improve her condition; the only option if Victoria should have any chance of making it beyond the age of two. Several operations and some waiting later, Victoria experienced a heart failure, and left this world behind. The doctor, the hospital staff assisting him, the journalist covering the case, and Cecilie were all devastated by these news, and presumably, many Danes following the story in the paper, too was touched by the story of Victoria. I know I was. And a dear friend of mine was so moved by it, that she had the picture of Victoria on her fridge, reminding us all about so many things.

It is a story about poverty and injustice, but also of hope, instinctive care and compassion from one individual to another, and it is a reminder, that it all comes down to caring and acting!

A brave little girl with a harsh fate, and the compassion from one woman across the world from her, Victoria’s story has touched many, given occasion for many talks and debates publicly and in private homes across Denmark. And I believe it has touched the inner change-maker within us all, at least it has done so for me. And it has reminded me, that it sometimes simply is about getting out there, of having the courage and compassion to move out of ones comfort zone in the effort of helping someone in need. Cecilie and her husband have subsequently started a fund called ‘Victoria foreningen’, to help other Nepalese children in similar situations by supporting the local hospitals to be better equipped for these situations.

Heated public debate: Should we interfere in others’ lives?

The story spurred a debate in the Danish media; was it right for someone to interfere in this little girl’s life and take such life altering decisions on her behalf? Some say, no, arguing that it only made her life worse that she had to go through complicated and traumatic surgery given the slim chances for recovery. They say it should not be up to a Danish news paper reader to decide on such matters. Others say, but what is the alternative? Should we accept seeing a small girl left to die in a storage room, malnourished, dirty, uncared for, and completely alone, not with as much as a name? Surely not. She then would have been awaiting a death, on the chair, of slowly but steady decay of her capacity to swallow and breathe. Is it not to prefer that she in her short life got to experience care, attention, and that someone fought for her?

The real question is: who has the responsibility? And when nobody claims any responsibility, what then? Doesn’t the international society have a responsibility towards the Victorias of the world? And as global citizens, as fellow human beings, do we not have a responsibility to care and react?

I find the acts of Cecilie very brave and inspiring. To me this is a modern tale of real life compassion, of following ones most basic human instincts of care for one another, and of having the courage to walk into uncertain waters just because there is simply nothing else to do. What would you do?

As the final words in the news paper series on the story concluded; ‘Victoria is dead. But she got a chance. She got a name’. And I like to add; she touched lives and will continue to do so.

Read more on Cecilie’s blog here.