Way back in January I received an email from a lovely woman named Carla who is a D Mom, an advocate and a volunteer for a charity called Learning to Live that helps children with diabetes. Thing is where Carla lives, they call the charity Aprendiendo a Vivir because it's in the Dominican Republic.
Carla's email asks if I would come and give a speech at an event they were having that concludes with a 10k. My short answer was, "I'd be honored, but don't speak a word of Spanish and I don't run".
Carla didn't care, she said they would find me a translator and I could walk the 10k. I found apprehensive about traveling to a place where I would mostly be mute, invited by a stranger who found me through my book and blog – but something told me that I should go, so that's just what I did.
I thought that I was prepared to meet children who have limited access to diabetes care and supplies. But when I arrived on the island and began to talk to the people who run the charity, I quickly realized that I didn't - though I thought that I did - have an appreciation for what having diabetes outside of America meant.
Dominicans who do not have private insurance or the means to provide for themselves rely on local hospitals for their supplies. It is not uncommon for a person to receive thirty test strips per month – one a day. That concept overtook me and I struggled to imagine how I would best utilize one test strip a day, keeping Arden healthy with only one strip seemed impossible.
I heard stories about children dying very young from completely ignored diabetes, families that weren't educated about the diseases but trying and others who were culturally predisposed to accept that life with diabetes meant that it would be greatly shortened. After seeing first-hand what having diabetes in the Dominican Republic was truly like and hearing about families, some who existed on the equivalent of one thousand dollars annually; I returned to my room on the first evening of my visit and threw away my speech. I'm still not sure if anything I said the next day was helpful, but I tried my best to relate our experiences in a way that would make sense to the parents listening.
Aprendiendo a Vivir was founded by a young man named José who happened to be studying in America when he diagnosed with type I, when he returned home and saw the difference between the education, tools and understanding that he was given in the U.S. and what was available to his fellow countryman; he sprung into action and created a network that supports children with diabetes in a way that left me awe inspired.
I was so concerned when I stepped onto the stage that what I was about to say wouldn't translate both in language and spirit but when I finished speaking a young mother brought her little girl to me so she could show me her insulin pump. She was very proud of her daughter's pump because their aren't many people living on D.R. that can afford one. I sat down on the edge of the stage and found a picture of Arden with her pump to share, when I showed the little girl Arden's picture she just smiled and hugged me.
A moment later as I walked through the crowd a mother stopped me to say thank you for mentioning that diabetes doesn't make you a broken person. She confided in me that her grown son's father is not accepting of his diabetes because he see's him as damaged. She added that it made her happy to see a father supporting his child with diabetes. I didn't quite know how to respond, so I hugged her just as the little girl had hugged me. We both cried.
As it turns out, it didn't matter that I don't speak any Spanish.
More images from the event can be found in my Image Gallery here.
*I misspoke during the address, Kris Freeman is a 4 time Olympian, not a 4 time gold medalist.