I can’t remember exactly when, but I think it was somewhere between wiping out on my mountain bike several times and having my shoes swallowed by the rich jungle mud that I began questioning why I had travelled to Ecuador in the first place. In less than a month, I’d be a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, cheering on the football team, attending dorm parties, and making new friends—what was I doing trekking around rural Ecuador, gathering bruises and losing shoes? Dr. David Gaus, a member of the class of 1984 at Notre Dame, had invited several of his former classmates, including my mom Laurie McKeon (ND ’84, JD’87, MNA’12) to join him in Ecuador for a week of mountain biking, river rafting, and hiking through the nation’s gorgeous terrain. This is how I, along with four of my siblings, had found myself sweating in the jungle the summer before my freshman year of college.
This wasn’t just a week of fun and adventure, however. Dr. Gaus wanted to show his former classmates the impactful work he was doing involving healthcare in rural Ecuador. In 1996, Dr. Gaus, along with Father Ted Hesburgh, founded Andean Health and Development (AHD), an organization dedicated to providing quality, sustainable medical care to the underserved population of Ecuador. AHD opened up its first hospital in 2000 in a deprived community in Pedro Vicente Maldonado and by 2007 it was fully self-sustaining. After taking a tour of the hospital, speaking with Ecuadorian physicians, and observing patients being treated, I witnessed first-hand the tremendous amount of good AHD was doing. A day later we toured AHD’s newest project, a hospital in Santo Domingo that would also train Ecuadorian physicians. Because of Father Hesburgh’s pivotal role in the establishment of AHD (he served as chair emeritus of AHD’s board), the local community proposed that it be named Hesburgh Hospital. Hesburgh Hospital, which opened in 2014, serves a community of 600,000 and is on its way to becoming fully self-sustaining. After these experiences, my entire perspective on the trip was changed. Dr. Gaus and his team were providing communities with much-needed quality healthcare; satisfying one of life’s most basic needs and truly serving the poorest of the poor.
AHD’s inspirational mission moved my family and I to want to help in any way we could. One thing that struck my brother and I was that, with such strong ties to the University of Notre Dame, AHD hardly had a presence on campus. I knew no other students who had even heard of the organization or of the terrific work they were doing. With the intent to change this, my brother Jack ND ‘14 and I started a club that we called Hesburgh’s Heroes. Our mission is to raise funds to help AHD’s mission in Ecuador and the rest of Latin America. More than this, however, we truly want to raise awareness for AHD; even if students can’t donate money to the cause right now, by spreading its mission across campus we can create a solid, long-term support system upon which AHD and the communities it serves can always depend.
Hesburgh’s Heroes has been a club for a little over a year and our current fundraising efforts are aimed toward Hesburgh Hospital, which is still working toward financial self-sustainability. On my visit to Ecuador, Dr. Gaus shared that some of the local community members proposed building a grotto on the campus of Hesburgh Hospital to not only serve as a place for prayer, but as a symbol of the relationship between the hospital and Notre Dame—two starkly different communities united by the efforts of an organization. If possible, the club would love to see its fundraising efforts be directed toward the construction of the grotto, but we understand that money may be needed elsewhere. Last year, through hosting tailgates, selling shirts, and reaching out to generous ND alumni, we were able to raise $15,000 for AHD, and it turned out that that exact amount was needed for a new ultrasound machine in Hesbugh Hospital. Regardless of where the funds go, it is incredibly gratifying to see the immediate impact of our efforts.
To further the mission of Hesburgh’s Heroes and AHD, we’ve teamed up with WonderWe.com, an innovative community crowdfunding platform that was started by Dominic Ismert ND ’99 and Sharon Bui Green ND ’02, ’04 M.Ed, ’07 MNA . WonderWe offers individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses, the opportunity to build campaigns aimed at doing good, invite others to support the campaign, and turn an idea into a movement. Through its social network aspect, it lets you use your network to help your movement gain momentum; it’s an easy and effective way to build support for a campaign, from funding a service project to funding a non-profit. Within the first few days of the campaign for Hesburgh Hospital, over $4,000 was raised on WonderWe. By supporting the hospital and AHD, WonderWe has helped us carry on Father Hesburgh’s legacy of service and social justice.
AHD started as an idea of Father Ted Hesburgh’s and has become a reality—serving the underserved, caring for the sick, and training others to create a lasting force for good. Expanding its reach every day, AHD—its hospitals, its staff, the communities it serves—stands in the heart of the Ecuadorian jungle as a beacon of what Father Hesburgh stood for. He was a champion for social justice; AHD carries on this mindset, and invites us to take to heart a prayer that Father Hesburgh said before every dinner: “Lord, give bread to those who hunger, and for those who have bread, give them hunger for social justice.”
Visit www.wonderwe.com/hesburgh to continue Fr. Ted’s legacy of social justice and contribute to Hesburgh Hospital.
Nate McKeon is a junior accounting major and peace studies minor from Kenosha, WI. He lives in Dillon Hall, and is the co-founder and current Vice President of Hesburgh’s Heroes.