I’m sitting at the kitchen counter completing my Saxon Math, and I’m getting frustrated; the multiplication problems are so simple. I think to myself, “I thought third grade was supposed to be HARDER than second!” As the problems become more and more tedious, I turn on the TV. I see starving children struggling to get a cup of dirty water. It’s a commercial for World Vision, an organization that helps needy children and families. I’m only eight, but I know that one day I will go to Africa. One day I will make a difference. One day I will save the world.
Seven years later, in 2008, I get the chance I’ve been waiting for; I take a mission trip to a rural village in the Dominican Republic. Each morning, twelve of us wake up early, buy huge quantities of rice at the local market, and deliver a bag to each family in the village. I am surprised to see so many kids playing outside. I’m already drenched in sweat after walking for just a few minutes, but the kids’ homemade soccer balls and jump ropes seem to distract them from the intense heat and the strong smell of manure.
At the first house, I’m nervous before we even knock on the door; I don’t know what to expect. We’ve heard that we will meet Yasuri, a twelve year-old girl with an enlarging heart. I’m sure this is going to be a very sad experience. But I am wrong.
I immediately calm down when Yasuri’s mother, Elyra, answers the door. I can see her joy and relief as we hand her the rice; she won’t have to worry about what she is going to feed her family today.
In my broken Spanish, I talk with Elyra for quite some time. She sits me down on the torn-up couch and tells me that Yasuri’s condition has been hard on everyone, but that Yasuri keeps the family going with her strength and laughter. As we talk, Yasuri smiles, giggles, and waves at me from her seat at the kitchen table. It’s hard for me to believe what her mother tells me next: Yasuri’s condition is critical; she’s in danger of losing her hearing and vision. Yasuri often wakes up in the middle of the night in agonizing pain, but the only thing Elyra can do is hold her and sing to her. The family cannot afford the regular treatments Yasuri needs. Without medicine and operations, Yasuri will not live much longer.
Before we leave, I take a quick photo of the family; they could not have been captured any better: Elyra and her two sons stand in the back, smiling gently, while Yasuri is up front bearing a huge grin. Her smile is a gift. It was a blessing and an inspiration to meet someone who, in spite of terrible challenges and pain, can remain so positive and outgoing. I look at that photograph daily.
When I returned home, I couldn’t get Yasuri out of my mind; I knew I needed to do something to help.
So I created Big Hearts Company.
Through the design and sale of t-shirts and monthly benefit concerts, our faith-based non-profit raises money to help pay for Yasuri’s care. Her condition has stabilized, her pain has decreased, and we’re working on getting her the life-saving operation she needs. As the organization has grown, we have also been able to provide support for Yasuri’s family and her village.
My experience with Yasuri and Big Hearts Company has reinforced for me the idea that everyone can make a difference. My life was changed the day I met Yasuri. One day, I hope that Big Hearts Company will go world-wide, like World Vision, the organization that inspired me nine years ago.
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