The Gift of Giving
Story and Photography (top) by Laurie McCall
Debi Malool sleeps on cots sometimes, or even on the ground under a mosquito net. She’s been spat on by camels, stopped by armed guards in the middle of the jungle, avoided bandits in Tanzania, dodged bullets in the desert, danced with scorpions, endured 129 degree heat, and washed her hair for two weeks with baby powder, all for the sake of serving others. If “purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs,1” then Debi Malool’s place is wherever the poor, the suffering, the sick and needy are, whether that is on Hilton Head Island or the sub-Saharan African desert.
Debi has worked as a Hospice nurse for over 20 years. She recalls one of her first days shadowing a more experienced nurse whose patient was a 14-year-old boy. “I really had to think about if this is what I wanted to do.” She says it is truly an honor to care for people when they are going through the worst kind of heartache. Grief causes many people to be angry, sometimes with the medical profession. “You just have to be patient,” Debi says. “We try to make sure that whatever time the person has left is the best it can be and pain free.” She attends the funerals whenever she can, all the nurses do. “It’s important for the family to see you there because they get close to you.” Part of what she loves so much about Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, where she works, is that it’s non-profit. Everyone receives the same care, whether they have money and insurance or not.
On Tuesdays, Debi works as a nurse for Volunteers in Medicine (VIM). The Hilton Head VIM, the heart and vision of Jack McConnel, was the prototype for more than 90 centers across the United States. They treat people who don’t have insurance, often young people without much money who fall through the cracks of the healthcare system. “It’s a lot people. Sometimes we see 60 in three hours. They pay $10 a visit, and we make sure they get the meds they need,” says Debi.
Debi’s husband, Guy, who’s sitting in the other room while we visit, tells me, “Debi’s heart is bigger than Hilton Head. She was born to give back. She didn’t just fall into this. She was born like this. It’s a gift.” He goes on to tell me stories about the two of them leaving restaurants with their leftovers boxed until Debi sees someone in need and gives their food away. He urges her to tell me about the mission trips.
There have been 11 so far—all medical missions, five to Haiti and six to different parts of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan. Debi says many of the people in the poorest parts of Africa have never received any type of medical care. When they hear that the medical mission team is coming, they will walk for days to wait for the team’s arrival. Over the period of two weeks, the team will treat over 2,500 people and have to turn many others away.
I ask Debi how spending time in third world countries has affected her. “I will never look at another glass of water the same. People walk for miles just to get dirty water from a ravine.” Her heart is touched when women desperate for help arrive with babies and hand them over, an act of hope and trust, an instant bond that goes beyond language or culture.
Debi reflects on her time in Haiti and the joy people possess in spite of living in extreme poverty. She tells me about an orphanage in Haiti filled with children whose parents cannot afford to take care of them. The children eat one meal a day, the same meal every day—beans and rice, which they are grateful for. “Can you imagine that?” she asks. For fun, they play soccer with a ball made of plastic bags, bundled and tied tightly together. Rather than building more orphanages, the Haiti Orphan Project works to reunite families by equipping the parents with a skill they can use to generate income, such as raising chickens.
With in that huge Hilton Head-size heart Debi has for people, there’s a special place for our Veterans. Her father was a career Marine. He never talked about it much, and he never got to go to DC. About a year ago, Debi decided to take part in Honor Flight, a a program that matches volunteers with Veterans for a three-day trip to DC. As a volunteer, she was responsible for her Veteran, both paying his way, and making sure he had anything he needed throughout the trip. It was a moving experience for both of them, as this Vietnam Veteran was able to pay his respects, spending a long time at the memorial, and later sharing some of his stories and struggles with her.
It’s easy to be in awe of someone’s gift when it’s not your own, and as amazing as it is to listen to Debi’s stories, she possesses a humility in telling them as if it’s no more amazing than someone’s ability to teach kindergarten all day. “We each have our gift,” she says. I ask Guy what he thinks about his wife’s adventures and way of being. Although he likes to give, he says he needs a shower, a bed, TV and a controlled climate. With a sense of amazement he says, “I’m grateful she has the heart and compassion to give back. I could never do what she does, ever.”
1Quote by Frederick Buechner
Overseas Disease: Malaria. Check. After a trip to Africa, when Debi didn’t bounce back as usual, she was diagnosed with Malaria. Now with her high antibody titers, she has a built-in resistance. So she really is made to do this.
A Mission Guide Must-Read: When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. If you have a heart to serve the least among us, locally or abroad, you need to read this book.
Not So “Fun”draising: Debi has to raise the funds to go on her mission trips. She hates asking people for money, but if you’d rather give than go, she will be glad to put it to good use.