Today’s post is written by Mike Giancola, a close friend and one of the finest leaders I know. He exlemplifies caring, compassion and commitment. And he doesn’t just talk about service above self. He lives it. I encourage each of you to help him in any way possible. In his words, it is when we give the most that we receive the most.
I first traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2000 with my students from NC State University as part of a Habitat for Humanity service-learning trip. During that trip, I met one of the Habitat beneficiary families including Lourdes Yanet Angeles Gomez and her four daughters: Francisca, Prenda, Yanela and Franyelis – ranging from 9 years to 11 months old. Their house is a very modest cinderblock structure about 300 sq ft – a vast improvement over the approximate 100 sq ft wood and tin shack they lived in before.
During the week when we weren’t on the worksite, we spent time teaching the girls how to speak English and they taught me how to speak Spanish. It wasn’t all work – we laughed a lot and I taught them how to juggle with rocks. Amazing how much you can communicate with another person even if you don’t (really) speak the same language. I still remember sitting on their front porch holding Franyelis when a man on a motorcycle pulled up to the house, introduced himself as the girls’ father and told me, “My casa es tu casa” He went inside to grab his lunch and then proceeded to leave on his motorcycle as I was still sitting on the porch holding his daughter.
I have been fortunate to visit them several times over the years as part of service-learning trips, including a visit in 2007 in which my mom joined me. Each time, we picked up where we left off since our last visit or letter. Lots of laughs (mostly over our miscommunications caused by the language barrier) but also discussions about family, faith and food. It warms my heart to see the girls doing well in school over the years and growing up to be wonderful young women.
Amazing how Facebook has further connected the world and over the past 2 years I have been able to stay in closer contact with Francisca. She has completed her college degree (no small accomplishment given the lack of resources and opportunities). She is now a special education teacher. During my most recent visit, she was beaming as she told me about her work…I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell her, “La profesora es muy inteligente!” She shared that I was her inspiration for becoming a teacher – very humbling given the relative short (but meaningful) amounts of time we have spent together over the years.
About a month ago, Francisca informed me that her mother, now 40, has been diagnosed with a tumor in her throat, most likely cancer. During our next few chats, she expressed her faith in God but also worried that her mom would not be able to afford the life saving surgery she needs. In the Dominican Republic if you can’t afford to pay for surgery, your options are to delay the surgery until you can or as several people told us, “you die”. This reality was hard to accept given the life saving procedure I had two years ago after my heart attack…while we are still paying the hospital bill and will be for several years to come, I never for a minute had to think about not having the procedure due to the cost. (Ok, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, but you get the point).
Over the past 4 months, my mom and mother-in-law both have had life saving surgeries. As they both are continuing to recover, we are very appreciative of the outstanding care they have received and are thankful to have health insurance that covered most of the cost. I cannot accept that any of our lives are more important just because we were born with a zip code that has access to quality medical care or live in a country where there is a system of health insurance. We are no more worthy of receiving health care than any other human being (This is not intended to be a political statement…just a statement of belief)
Francisca became more worried and recently asked for help. I prayed for direction and thought about how to best answer her call for help. After talking with Jenn (insert incredibly supportive wife here), we decided I should go to the DR and visit.
On December 9, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with my friend (and former student and staff member CJ Barnes). He also has an extremely supportive wife (Thanks Veronica and CJ!) During our visit, we reminisced about previous visits, looked at pictures from over the years and got acquainted with the two new additions to the family (Lourdes’ grandchildren, Prendali and Alvin). We talked about her diagnosis. She showed us the x-rays, but you could also see the tumor on her neck. She said she was feeling a little better, but you could tell she was tired and not her usual self. I asked her to see the estimate for the surgery – $445,235 pesos ($10,600 USD). Lourdes told us her family and friends are trying to save the money, but as you can imagine, there are limits to what they can raise on their own. She said she tried not to think about it too much and knew that God would provide. Talk about faith!
After our visit, we asked the girls if we could take them to buy Christmas presents. They were excited and so we went to lunch and then to the clothing store. The first two stores we entered, the girls were not really looking at the clothes. I asked what the problem was and they said, “These clothes are too expensive” and they wanted to go to another store. When we arrived at the third store, CJ and I were about “done” with shopping, but knowing this was a special occasion, we persevered. I asked Lourdes to pick out an outfit for her granddaughter. Prendali was so excited, she refused to take the outfit off so we could pay for it…needless to say, she wore the outfit home. I asked Prenda if she found an outfit yet and she said, “No, I would rather buy diapers and milk for Prendali” Another example of how well Lourdes has raised these girls and a wonderful act of selflessness from a 20 year old young women. After a visit to the grocery store, Francisca asked me if I enjoyed shopping with her family to which I replied in Spanish, “My heart is very happy right now, but I don’t even enjoy shopping with my family!” It was a special moment after a special day and a reminder that it is when we give, that we receive the most. I enjoy observing the true joy this family experiences and their appreciation for what they have, instead of fretting on what they don’t. They are truly a wealthy family indeed.
I am hopeful that Lourdes will have many more days to watch her girls grow up to be wonderful young women. I pray that she has more grandchildren to love on. And that she is able to have the life saving surgery she needs. As I reflected on this list, I realized I was receiving the answer to my prayers for direction.
I serve on the board of directors for a non-profit called Together We Can. Our vision is to work with individuals and groups committed to making significant and meaningful changes in their communities, both locally and internationally. We have no paid staff so 100% of donations go to support the work we do. You can learn more about TWC at http://togetherwecaninc.org/ As an organization, we are trying to raise the funds to help Lourdes. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check made out to Together We Can (put DR-Lourdes on the memo line and send to me at Mike Giancola, 7416 Ladora Drive, Willow Spring, NC 27592) All funds will go directly to the hospital so Lourdes can receive the care she needs. Just like Stop Hunger Now, when people come together as a community, we move towards a more just world. In fact, we become more human. TOGETHER WE CAN!