Matthew Boroditsky with some of the children he met at Project Somos. (photo Matthew Boroditsky)
In life, we all face hurdles – and how we react to these trials can come to define us. This story exemplifies that.
Three years ago, Matthew Boroditsky was told he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a relatively rare form of cancer, accounting for about 0.5% of all cancers and 15% of all lymphoma cancers diagnosed. Approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Canada each year, and it is more frequently found in males than in females, and in people between the ages of 15-39 and older than 55.
Boroditsky was born in Chicago, moving to Vancouver with his family at four months old. At age 17 – on Oct. 13, 2013 – he was diagnosed. After completing high school at St. George’s and once the disease was under control, he moved to Hamilton, Ont., to study at McMaster toward a bachelor of health sciences degree.
Thinking back, Boroditsky recalled, “I had just returned to school for my Grade 12 year after playing in a hockey tournament over the summer months, when things quickly changed for me. All of a sudden, my life was put on hold, as the only focus became on fighting this disease over the next eight months of my life. During this time, I never truly understood the magnitude of influence this experience would have on my life.”
The importance of health and how much we take our good health for granted was something that especially struck Boroditsky during this time. Just as he and his family began settling into the treatment schedule, they were approached with the opportunity to be granted a wish by the Children’s Wish Foundation.
“This was a unique and intriguing opportunity, one that I did not take lightly,” said Boroditsky. “It was quite overwhelming when I first fully realized the vast possibilities associated with this wish. After several days of thought, I felt sure I wanted this wish to be one I could look back upon many years later. I wanted to make a wish that could serve as a constant reminder to not only me, but to the greater community, about the importance of gratitude, hopefully sharing a small bit of what I learned through my experience. Thus, I came to the conclusion that I would like my wish to be a giving wish.”
Before his diagnosis, in March 2013, Boroditsky and several classmates visited Project Somos, which is located in a southern Guatemalan community as part of a service-learning experience. An eco-sustainable alternative community for at-risk mothers and children, it arose, among many other factors, because of rising poverty and poor access to education and medical care in the region.
In line with Project Somos’ commitment to environmental sustainability, a 960-square-foot medical clinic is in the planning stages. It is to be built with earthquake resistance in mind and will feature solar hot water and electrical power.
“The people in rural areas, such as Chivarabal – where Project Somos is located – often don’t have the money to cover transportation to a medical clinic,” said Boroditsky. “If they do manage to get to a free clinic, they might not be able to afford the medication prescribed…. Even generic drugs are prohibitively expensive. There aren’t many systems in place for long-term health conditions and preventative care is completely lacking.
“Realizing the limitations and the precarious situations people find themselves in, the tragic lack of what we, at home, would consider basic simple care, sparked the idea of constructing a medical clinic on site.”
When the idea was first conceived, Boroditsky was not fully aware of how this could be done. But, when he went to Children’s Wish and started discussing with them how he wanted to use his wish, they helped translate his dream into a reality.
“I wanted my wish to make a difference in this world and to continue to help the people of Guatemala for many years to come, trying to parallel the philosophy of Project Somos in its recognition of the importance of sustainability,” said Boroditsky. “The people at Children’s Wish have been, from the very beginning, extremely supportive surrounding the initiative and did everything they could to help make it become a reality. Children’s Wish is truly a remarkable organization that I’m proud to have been able to work with.”
And so, nearing the end of his treatment, in partnership with Children’s Wish, Boroditsky has directed the initial funds into the medical clinic for Project Somos.
But, the planning of a medical clinic and neighborhood house at the Project Somos site has been challenging and Boroditsky, friends and family are continuing to fundraise. In that vein, they will be holding an event next month – on Oct. 13 at St. George’s School.
“We are planning to celebrate the continued progress and success of the project that we hope will make a big difference in the lives of others who are less fortunate,” said Boroditsky. “The event will be centred on learning more about how this project came to be and hearing from a few inspirational speakers who have personally moved me into action.
“Life has a funny way of evolving,” he added. “I never would have even imagined I’d be involved in a project like this so far from home. I feel we have an obligation as a global community to help each other, and I know that many of you reading this feel the same way.
“I feel optimistic and excited to make a difference in the lives of so many. With the help of Children’s Wish and many supporters … we’re getting closer to seeing this wish become a reality.
“Never underestimate the power you hold in helping to make good things happen,” he said. “Please help us by donating directly to the medical clinic project or by coming to our event to help make this giving wish come true.”
To read more about Boroditsky’s story, see “Letter from Matthew Boroditsky: A Giving Wish” at projectsomos.org. For more information on the project and fundraiser, visit facebook.com/helpingadreamcometrue. (A tax receipt for donations will be issued by the Compassionate Fruit Society, a nonprofit for Project Somos.) To buy tickets to the Oct. 13 event, which takes place 7-8:30 p.m., at St. George’s School, 4175 West 29th Ave., visit matthews-wish.eventbrite.ca.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.