Four continents. Four countries. Multiple languages. Not a typical childhood scene for one little girl who still remembers a common denominator in her international neighborhoods.
“Even though my dad was a diplomat, we went hungry,” Annette McClendon of Richland said about the scarcity of food and other items in Jamaica during the early 1980s. “I would be brushing my teeth and wonder when I’d get my next toothbrush, simple things like that.”
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Annette learned early about the lack of food and health care in the diverse cultures. Her father worked as a public health nutritionist for the World Health Organization, a career that had her growing up in several nations.
“I was born and raised around the Third World,” said the Richland nurse practitioner. “My first language was Swahili and I didn’t speak English until I was 10,” a transition made easier by her German-born mother who was a linguist and spoke seven languages fluently.
By the time she was a teenager, Annette had experienced an atypical life. In Jamaica where she learned to speak English, she played with Bob Marley’s kids, including Ziggy Marley and their cousins, dated the heir to the Sandals Resorts and flew to the U.S. every two years for a visit.
“I always had a dream of living in America,” she said, remembering the trips to Texas where she would see her grandparents. “I graduated from high school at 16 in Kingston, Jamaica, and then started college in Beaumont, Texas. That was a huge culture shock.”
Young and in a new country, Annette graduated with a master’s in clinical psychology but she never forgot her life among other cultures, the ever-present hardships. In Dallas, she met Glen, a man with a heart like hers.
“He was downtown ministering to the Latino community through the church I attended and I had volunteered to help,” Annette said, remembering their first introduction in the poorer section of the huge city. “I knew the second time we went out that he was the one.”
Marriage and four children later, the couple moved in 1991 to the Tri-Cities where he found work in Richland as an engineer. Still, Annette longed to continue helping the impoverished as she had done with Mercy Ships in earlier years. The hospital ship provides free lifesaving surgeries for those in need.
“I knew I wanted to do mission work so I went into medicine. They don’t need therapists in developing countries. They’re just trying to survive,” Annette said with a half-smile, remembering the strong pull to change careers.
The determined student said it was “a lot different going to college this time” as she reflected on the challenges of working and raising a family. But three medical degrees later, Annette was poised to do the volunteer work she felt called to do. In 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina, she was in Lafayette, La., to help. Then when the earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010, she arrived less than a week later.
It wouldn’t be her last time in Haiti. On one trip she and her team went into a village where refugees forced from the Dominican Republic had found temporary shelter.
“They were sleeping in a church like sardines in a can,” said Annette, thinking about the desperate people who had lost everything, including communicating in their native tongue in their new country. “The team was just visiting for the day and we went back to the clinic to get more supplies and medications.”
Stories of need have continued to multiply over time. A month ago, Annette returned from Haiti with heart-wrenching accounts.
“This last time there were five infants and three of the mothers had died,” Annette said. The babies who had no milk of any kind. “The boy and girl twins were 22 days old and starving to death. The boy was less than three pounds. All he’d eaten was bread and water.”
Because that baby was so weak, the tiny boy was given an IV at the mobile clinic. In two days he had gained more than a pound. Annette is quick to give credit to God’s healing touch.
“We’re just his hands and feet,” Annette said, reflecting on how rewarding it is to touch another’s life, even continents away. “People think you have to have all this fancy training to help, but not really.”
All it takes is a heart that speaks the language of love, one the whole world understands.
If you have a story for Light Notes, contact Lucy Luginbill: 509-551-2191, @LucyLuginbill