By Stan Bishop
Walter Joseph is a self-confessed firm believer in the power of faith and healing. For the past two years, every day has been the beginning of a new life for him. The fifty-six-year-old La Clery resident says that living past age fifty-four is a miracle he appreciates dearly. There’s also another reason for his being upbeat about life these days: he is humbled by a friend he found when he needed one most.
In late 2012, his wife, Eudoxia, approached the National Community Foundation (NCF) for assistance on his behalf. At the time, Joseph was in Martinique undergoing medical treatment totaling $70,000. The costly treatment included chemotherapy, radiotherapy and an operation to remove a tumour. The hefty price tag being asked for by the French doctors was the cost of the medical procedures Joseph needed – not the associated traveling expenses.
“It wasn’t an easy battle,” Joseph tells me. “If you’re not the kind of person that believes in God, you would just collapse. The sum of money being asked for and not knowing where to get it was a heavy burden to bear. I know many people who have died because of that burden.”
His radiotherapy and chemotherapy alone amounted to €7,600 while his medication came to EC$2,000. After considering his situation, the NCF’s health committee gave him a $2,500 cheque to assist in defraying his medical costs. That NCF cheque came long before his credit union granted him a loan. He paid €4,000 towards his medical bills and was told that he could pay the balance through installments. After his subsequent return to Saint Lucia, he was told in October 2012 that he had one month to undergo surgery, which he did.
Joseph eventually lost fifty pounds due to the strict diet prescribed by the French doctors. But after following their orders, he eventually regained the lost weight and now feels full of life. Joseph, a contractor by trade, used to being the life of the parties he often threw in his yard for friends, now wears a catheter. Presently, he is almost through paying the balance on his medical costs. He has one straightforward message for anyone second-guessing making a gift of love to the NCF’s coffers.
“If they don’t donate, then more people will pass away, because if there isn’t the National Community Foundation, a lot of us might not have a place to turn to,” Joseph says. “So I’m asking Saint Lucians to keep donating because people like me are alive today because we got help from them. It can be as small as $2 that you can afford to give, but do so. It still helps to fill the basket. Don’t force yourself – just give whatever you can.”
Internal Medicine/Cardiovascular Physician, Dr. Martin Didier, is a founding member of the NCF and serves as chairman of its health committee. As the health committee’s head, he says the real head-scratcher lies in apportioning the limited available resources the NCF is forced to divide among the plethora of cases that pour into its office daily.
“Over the years, we have tried to assist as best we can. We’ve tried to do the best job given the circumstances and the amount of money we collect. Obviously, if there’s no money, we can’t assist. We cannot pay for the full amount of medical procedures but we can give you a donation to help you to get to where you want,” Dr. Didier explains.
According to Dr. Didier, the health committee can allow for a grant for up to $2,500 per beneficiary. However, the health committee can petition the NCF to award as much as $5,000 to a beneficiary. All applicants seeking assistance must agree to an interview process referred to as a ‘means test’ to ascertain what level of assistance – if any – is necessary. The health committee also refers applicants to the right kind of specialists and/ or medical institutions they might need to see regarding their ailments. The health committee also assists people seeking medical treatment by networking with their fellow medical colleagues here and abroad – mostly for free. But as Dr. Didier tells it, requests from cancer patients take a toll on the NCF’s finances.
“If we get requests from twelve patients on any given day that we meet, probably eight of those cases would be for cancer,” Dr. Didier says. “So it’s a big problem and, of course, cancer treatment is very expensive. The NCF couldn’t possibly pay for just one patient’s treatment. It can make a contribution to the continuing care of the patient, but certainly cannot give one patient all of our resources. You can imagine what would happen if we paid $100,000 for one patient’s treatment and not be able to assist other patients requesting assistance.”
Like Walter, Dr. Didier concedes that the NCF’s ability to bring comfort to the lives of many in need depends heavily on how society sees the role of the NCF. The pooling of our collective resources – whatever we can afford – plays a crucial role in that regard. It’s a difficult job but we all have to lend a helping hand. At long last, we have the chance to build a national community of support that has a solid foundation. We need to keep it going and growing.
“The NCF can only help with as much as it gets. We’re a not-for-profit organization and we depend on donations. We constantly have to change the ways by which we raise funds. Things are hard and the economic situation dictates that people hold onto their cash. What I would say, however, is that help does not always have to be in monetary terms. It can be in kind. If you’re willing to contribute your time, you should do so. Each one should help one,” Dr. Didier says.
I interviewed both Joseph and Dr. Didier at the NCF’s 11th National Telethon held at the Gaiety on Rodney Bay nearly two weeks ago. The doctor was in high spirits, hopeful that the $250,000 target the NCF was pitching for was possible. (The NCF was only able to attract $190,000, most of that via the corporate sector). Joseph, however, catheter at his side, said there was no way he would let up the chance to thank the NCF for its generosity and appeal to prospective donors to do what’s right. His family was by his side when he showed up to give thanks, too.
Aside from health, the NCF also assists beneficiaries that fall into the following categories: youth at risk, older persons, disadvantaged children (scholarships), homeless/disadvantaged persons, people with disabilities, and pensioners. In the past twelve years the organization has been around, thousands of people have benefited from its programmes that each year costs the NCF way more than the $250,000 the National Telethon aims for. It would stand to reason that those beneficiaries spread the good word about the NCF’s good work.
So how can one assist? People can assist the NCF’s work by agreeing to a salary deduction at their places of work, donating directly – cash or kind — to the NCF’s office on High Street or its bank account, becoming an NCF volunteer, and by asking someone to do the same. Schools and organizations can also chip in. As long as it’s from the heart, it’s all good.
A few years ago, NCF’s former Executive Director, Juliana Alfred, gave me a ride to La Guerre Primary School where the NCF was sponsoring a chess programme. She was brainstorming as she drove as to what the NCF could do to raise funds aside from its flagship telethon. I immediately blurted out that a fun walk would be the ideal thing. Her eyes lit up but the NCF would later up the tempo and launch the Kouwi Sent Lisi. After a few years running, the idea was scrapped. NCF’s current Executive Director, Madonna Monrose, told me recently that it was actually costing the NCF more to host the event than the NCF was gaining from the event. It’s tough doing the right thing sometimes, isn’t it? But the NCF continues to brainstorm, nonetheless, thanks in part to its tireless and committed volunteers and kind-hearted sponsors.
If you asked me, organizations like the NCF should be the kind of institutions that we should be proud to call our own. None of us ever think that our comfort zones would turn into disasters until our worst fears come true. We need to recognize that doing the right thing should come as second nature. Whatever we earn, we must learn to apportion a small part of it to a noble cause such as the NCF.
For two years now, Walter Joseph has been living a miracle he cherishes dearly. He is testimony to the generosity of those generous donors who made it possible. So for the next few minutes, just ask yourself this simple question: “If all else fails and there’s nowhere else to turn to for assistance, from whose contributions would I be benefitting through the NCF’s assistance?” From now on, ensure that you can say that any assistance you would ever receive from the NCF also includes yours.