IM this article to a friend!

February 20, 2003

After years of giving , couple gets something

From: Lexington Minuteman, MA - 20 Feb 2003

By Marcy Rose / Correspondent
Thursday, February 20, 2003

When Lexington residents Jay and Susan Morrison first saw Hoel Lopez Rizzo in 1998, several things struck them about the 13-year-old boy. He seemed very playful and inquisitive. He went out of his way to communicate and would try to make contact with a variety of people. The boy seemed very bright, almost exceptional. And the Morrisons knew that unless somebody did something, Rizzo didn't stand a chance.

Rizzo is deaf and lives in La Borgona, Nicaragua, a small village outside of Managua. The crushing poverty rides in rutted roads and lives in slab-floored houses, under corrugated metal roofs. Even in the best circumstances, the 80 percent unemployment rate offers little hope of success. It is no wonder that the Morrisons felt a need to act on behalf of the friendly boy before them.

"My wife and I looked at each other, then looked at Hoel, and without saying anything, made a quiet decision to see if we could help him," said Morrison of that first meeting. Their discussion during the flight home confirmed that oneness of thought and their resolution to follow through.

The experience of the Morrisons happened as a result of a trip sponsored by the Lexington United Methodist Church, where Rev. Susan Morrison is pastor. Since 1991, the church has fostered a sister relationship with a Nicaraguan church called Dios Es Amor in La Borgona. Bob Miner, a longtime presence in the Lexington school system, has been a driving force behind the project almost since its inception.

"We built a relationship on prayer, reflection on scripture, and an exchange of cultures," said Miner. The relationship has evolved to include the funding of scholarship programs for students down there, as well as self-sufficiency programs. Miner remembered Rizzo and offered his blunt assessment: "He would have been a throwaway."

By the fall of that year, Rizzo was in the United States. During his six-week stay, he was examined and evaluated by some of Boston's finest medical professionals, including Massachusetts Eye and Ear. The unfortunate findings indicated that Rizzo was not a good candidate for a cochlea implant. The Morrisons considered enrolling Rizzo in a school for the deaf in this country, but not wanting to remove him from his family and culture, ruled it out. They were disappointed with the lack of a plan for him and yet were forced to begin preparations to return Rizzo to his home.

"We really had very few answers," said Morrison.

What happened next is what some people would call coincidental, although Rev. Morrison prefers to call it "God-cidental." With less than 48 hours before Rizzo's return to Nicaragua and a life of poverty, the Morrisons were introduced to a young linguist by the name of Judy Kegl (later, Judy Shepard-Kegl). She was a doctoral student at the University of Southern Maine and had written her dissertation on language development among deaf children in Nicaragua.

"She evaluated him and felt he would be a good candidate for a particular school for the deaf in Nicaragua," remembered Morrison. As if that were not enough good fortune for the boy, Dr. Kegl was also bound for Nicaragua and joined Rizzo there within days of his return. After a week of intensive training, he began to attend a specialized school for the deaf near Managua.

In the ensuing years, the Morrisons continued to fund Rizzo's education. With little more than their faith to spur them on, they sent money to the school for five years, even though it was sometimes difficult to envision how he was sticking with it. The daily regimen was difficult. His mother would have to get him up at 4 each morning so that he could get to school. The trip involved three different buses and took more than two hours each way.

"We just didn't have a real clear idea of what was happening with it," admited Morrison.

Last month, the idea became clearer. After joining their church group for one of the annual trips to Las Borgona, the Morrisons were able to meet with Rizzo for the first time since 1998.

"It was a very tender moment," said Rev. Morrison of the reunion. They discovered that Rizzo was doing very well in school, so much so that he will begin teaching sign language this month to other students at his school. He also had maintained his wonderful sense of humor.

"When we asked him if we seemed different to him, he said we seemed smaller to him than we were five years ago," laughed Morrison.

The other happy outcome of his education was that he developed his skills in soccer, basketball, and track. When the Morrisons were in Nicaragua last month, Rizzo had just gotten a medal in track. He showed it to them and then did something that surprised them.

"He gave me the medal to wear on the plane back," said Morrison, his voice cracking with emotion.

She summed up the entire experience by saying, "In our time of global crisis, we often feel despair about being able to make a difference. Hoel has taught me that hope happens one human being at a time."

© Copyright by the Herald Interactive Advertising Systems, Inc.