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ESL Student Juggles Class, Children, and Charity

ESL Student Rocio

THERE ARE MANY KINDS of patients at Casa Simón de Betania, a hospice located outside of Monterrey, Mexico. Some suffer from HIV/AIDS. Some are at the end of a long battle against cancer. Some are drug addicts and former prostitutes.

But for Rocio Gomez, chairwoman of the hospice’s board of directors, they are not just patients. They are her friends and her inspiration.

“I just want to contribute to the world,” she said.

Not only does Gomez run a charitable organization, but she is also a student of the University of Texas’ Academic English Program (AEP) and a mother of four. She telecommutes to the office in Mexico with her iPhone, juggling the demands of work, school, and her children every day.

Gomez began volunteering at Casa Simón de Betania in 1984 at the age of 19. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mexico, and worked as a newspaper reporter and then as a communications manager for a charitable trust. Though she continued to volunteer at the hospice, it began to take a toll on her—while also becoming a source of inspiration.

“This situation as a volunteer cost me a lot,” she said. “Sometimes I just wanted to quit. However, this gave me another perspective on life.”

She related the story of one of her friends in the hospice. He had attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge—and survived—but was paralyzed from the neck down. The hospice took him in, where he remained confined to his bed. He told Gomez that he had been given a second chance so that others could see him and not make the mistake he made.

Stories such as his are unfortunately not entirely unique. Many of the patients have been rejected by their family and friends due to their conditions. Yet the staff and sisters at Casa Simon de Betania reach out to them—not with judgment—but with open arms.

Gomez eventually realized the hospice was her calling. She devoted herself full time to the organization, eventually becoming the chairwoman of the board of directors. She enrolled in the AEP so she could master the English language and reach out to potential donors in the United States. The University of Texas was a perfect fit, she said, due to its proximity to the border, Austin’s vibrant culture and family-friendly environment.

She tries to make it down to the hospice as often as possible, but the ongoing drug cartel violence in Mexico makes it difficult to do so.

“Sometimes the sisters will tell me, ‘you can’t come this weekend,’” she said.

Still, she remains steadfast in her commitment to the hospice. Currently, she is working to raise money for a $4 million addition to the hospice, which will out allow it to double its capacity.

For more information on Casa Simón de Betania, visit their website.

Story By Forrest Burnson
Video by Mike Andrick

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