PEPPERELL – David Gibson has received a different sort of gift for his 40th birthday. It is a gift that allows him to give rather than get, which will be shared with strangers he has yet to meet.
His wife, Rebecca Gibson, gave him two-week passage to Uganda during which David can fulfill his near decade-long desire to help impoverished people develop a clean, noncontaminated water supply as a volunteer with Lifewater International.
It is something the Hadley Road residents never thought could happen given that they have a four-year-old son, Grant, and one-and-a-half-year-old triplets, Elijah, Charlotte and Benjamin.
They had tried to have a biological child for 10 years before they adopted Grant and never thought they would be natural parents. But a difficult pregnancy that included being confined to bed resulted in the triplets.
David, a chemist who works with highly specialized glues for a Billerica company, had begun training for nonprofit work at Christmas this past year in case it came in handy some day.
Rebecca, a trained pediatric hospice nurse, said it came to her about 3 a.m. one morning that she could manage the family if her husband was away.
“I was inspired by an article (in the Nashoba Valley Chronicle, April 7) about K.C. Johnson and his challenges,” Rebecca said.
Johnson is a Groton hair stylist who has been motivated by the loss of his entire family to help cancer victims.
“I realized I could do this. Instead of fast cars, this is David’s mid-life (dream). I’m excited for him. It’s something he’s wanted for seven years. I don’t know why we didn’t do it pre-children. It took a wife to say go,” she said.
“It would have been much easier pre-children,” David agreed. “(I thought) now that this is my mission there isn’t time to go. Then Becky stepped in and arranged it. There’s a need (for clean water, sanitation and fighting disease) that’s so great and solutions are so simple. As a Christian it is one of the ways I can share my faith, doing what I can.”
Lifewater International – www.lifewater.org – is a nonprofit Christian organization started by California pump repair businessman William Ashe after he began installing new water systems for churches, orphanages and camps.
David will be part of a team of four Americans instructing natives in the installation and use of a water pump and sand filtration system designed by an MIT professor, Rebecca explained. They will train volunteers in sanitation and hygiene who will, in turn, train others in their villages.
“As a westerner I’d like to do more, but I have to work within the culture and their government,” David said. “This is a way to bring something to them.”
David’s absence won’t be easy for Rebecca, although her sister-in-law will fly in from California to help.
Both parents were fully occupied with their children while they spoke. The cost of triplets is an unanticipated financial drain and there isn’t much free cash to go around. They charged the trip with little hope of reimbursement from David’s employer. He is using vacation time to go.
“I’m a baker,” Rebecca said with her arms full of children. “I plan to hold some bake sales.”
“When you hear ‘triplets’ you think my goodness how can we pay for it,” David said. “There are long days, but not as bad as you’d think. To quote the actor John Leguizamo, ‘The days are long, but years are short.'”
“When you have less time you make more of it,” Rebecca said. “I’m more excited for David. If this is a God-directed thing it’ll fall into place.”
The town of Pepperell and New England itself played a role in the family’s outreach. They found the town is far different than expensive, fast-paced San Diego and the volunteerism the Gibsons have seen set them at ease.
“We were told New Englanders were cold and stand-offish,” David said. “But people here are more open, more warm than other people.”
Rebecca said when she was forced into bed rest at the end of her pregnancy, meals were brought to her by Senior Center volunteers. Later, when flu shots were prescribed and the vaccine was in short supply, the center provided them.
“(Council on Aging Director Sharon Mercurio) is amazing,” Rebecca said. “I’m a blow-in, but I’m proud to live in this town. I so appreciate it. I don’t even want to go back (to California) even though my loved ones are there. I love New England,” she said with a smile, “even the winters.”