Beautiful, Unexpected Impact Ripples Are Created Through Bridge of Life

In a small home in Guatemala City in 1994, a young girl danced with her grandfather in celebration of her third birthday. It was her first visit back to Guatemala, her mother’s home country. The home was simple. She felt frequent drops of water on her head from numerous leaks in the roof, and access to daily water was very limited. Yet the music and dancing were all the three-year-old needed for the most perfect birthday celebration.

Fast forward to 2016: this young girl, who is now a bright successful 25-year-old United States citizen, will make another memorable visit to Guatemala and pursue her dream of returning to dance and celebrate once again with her now 87-year-old grandfather.

The Bridge of Life volunteer team in Guatemala, February 2016

The Bridge of Life volunteer team in Guatemala, February 2016

Liz Lopez, a teammate with the LA/OC VillageHealth Operations team at DaVita, volunteered with Bridge of Life (BOL) on a chronic kidney disease (CKD) screening mission to Trifinio Guatemala this past February. The goal of the mission was to screen 1,000 banana plantation workers for CKD and other non-communicable diseases at the Banasa Farm to gain a better understanding of the major health issues that affect the well-being of these workers. But this mission’s impact ripples began far before the team touched ground in Guatemala City.

The BOL volunteer team met in Dallas to catch a connecting flight to Guatemala City. It was the first opportunity for the team to meet each other face-to-face. Liz introduced herself to the team and shared that her mother is originally from Guatemala City, and that she was eager to give back to the country where her mother was born and where some of her family still lives. As the team prepared to take off, Liz approached me and humbly asked for a favor to spend a short 15 minutes at the airport in Guatemala City to see her family who she had not seen since her third birthday 22 years ago. Liz was clear that she did not want to disrupt the team itinerary but was anxious to see her grandfather and cousins. I quickly decided that Liz would, of course, meet her family at the airport and then spend the evening with them.

Bridge of Life volunteer, Liz Lopez, visiting with her grandfather, Jorge Chacon, in Guatemala City

Bridge of Life volunteer, Liz Lopez, visiting with her grandfather, Jorge Chacon, in Guatemala City

Upon arrival at the airport in Guatemala City, BOL’s team of 11 volunteers quickly realized the unexpected impact ripples of Liz’s participation as the team gathered around Liz, her grandfather and cousins. The reunion between Liz and her grandfather, Jorge Chacon, brought tears of joy to Liz’ family and the BOL team as they hugged and danced in excitement of seeing each other again. Countless hugs and pictures continued as the team witnessed the love and happiness the family was experiencing as a result of Liz’ desire to volunteer with BOL and give back to her mother’s home country. The BOL team agreed that this family reunion was the highlight of their mission experience, and that these unexpected impact ripples at the start of the mission set the stage for the rest of their time in helping those in need in Guatemala.

Liz and her grandfather shared just a few short hours together the night of her arrival in Guatemala City. They danced together again, listened to music and shared stories about the rest of their family in the United States. Jorge told Liz she brought love and happiness back into his home. Liz said she certainly could get used to spending days dancing and laughing again with her grandfather. Jorge spends his days walking, reading, watching television, and cooking. He is well-known in his neighborhood and is a friend to many. Jorge’s last wish before he passes is for everyone in his family to share a meal around the dining room table in his home where his children were raised. Liz convinced her grandfather to consider a visit to the United States when she gets married one day.

The dance between a young girl and her grandfather spanned 22 years. The unexpected impact ripples from BOL missions are often not quantifiable from a metrics standpoint. However, their impact is far-reaching. Liz’ story was made possible through her eagerness to volunteer with BOL and give back to her home community. The impact ripples made through BOL will certainly continue, whether they are planned and measurable or completely unexpected.

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