Connie Thayer--There's a Passion Behind My Learning
Finding a Life in Helping Children Abroad
Constance McDonough-Thayer had a singing career, or thought she did. She had graduated from Nantucket High School, attended Longy School of Music in Cambridge, performed widely on-island and off since childhood, and thought that her talents and future lay in being a singing actor. Then, in 2008, life intervened. Talking with her mother, Linda McDonough, Connie realized that performing could not be her life career as much as an enjoyable avocation. She wanted to keep her music as her passion, rather than become financially dependent on it. She was “like a deer in the headlights,” as she says. What was next?
Her mother was, as always, supportive and helpful. She observed that Connie loved working with kids, loved math and loved science. Why not science education? Why not? So Connie transferred into Harvard University’s degree-granting program for adults, which allows students to work at the same time, and she was on her way into medicine.
The next life-transforming event happened as the result of a conversation with Kerry Kennedy Flynn, her mother’s best friend and a stalwart of the family for many years. Kerry, who had been going to Vietnam originally with the Global Volunteer Network and later independently, talked Connie into accompanying her in 2010. Connie stepped off the plane in Da Nang and immediately felt a deep attraction to Vietnam. For the next five weeks she spent mornings and afternoons tending to orphaned children. In a private orphanage with twenty-two children she held babies who craved human skin-to-skin contact, feeling them just relax against her chest. She accompanied young children to much-needed medical appointments, helped kids brush their teeth and clean their feet. In a government-supported orphanage with a “baby room” of severely handicapped 7- to 8-year-olds she worked with physiotherapists to ease the pain of children with cerebral palsy and other deeply debilitating diseases.
And along the way, Connie had an epiphany: looking at one very sick child she realized “If I were a doctor right now I’d be able to save your life.” From that moment she determined that she would become a doctor herself, to give these and other children like them in Vietnam the best medical care she could.
Coming back to the United States after extending her original four-week stay for an additional week, Connie could hardly wait to get back to school and start accumulating those credits necessary to get into medical school. Education finally had a propulsive purpose—“there was a passion behind my learning.”
As usual, her mom and dad were endlessly supportive, giving her constant emotional guidance and steering, but her passion came with a monetary cost as well, and the financial burden of Harvard is Connie's alone. She works two or three jobs in addition to spending nights and weekends studying for her classes at Harvard. She’s found study group friends, not competitors, to help cement that learning. She used the pictures she took in Vietnam to create her blog, www.backtodanang.blogspot.com, where she expressed, in painful detail, the emotions that swept over her in dealing with so many unfortunate children with no one to care about them. And she used Facebook, that much-decried website, to stay in touch with friends (“their support is invaluable to help you change your life”) and spread the word about her mission. She made the decision to be healthy and lost over 100lbs to do so. She started to become familiar with Vietnamese.
In October 2011 Connie’s mother, Linda Thayer, died suddenly. Connie and her family relied on the huge outpouring of island support in their grief, and she found renewed determination in knowing how much her mission in life had meant to her mother.
And now she’s reaching out to the Nantucket community again, seeking support for her work in Vietnam. She returns there in early July with two women who have become dear friends: an American studying to be a nurse and an Australian pre-med student. The three of them made a decision to return to Vietnam together and pursue their work with children on their own, having learned what they needed from the Global Volunteer Network, so they’re able to do so with more flexibility and intensity. Connie will be carrying used clothing, shoes and necessities, all of her shipments donated by the airline she is traveling on, and taking only one backpack for her own needs. It’s all about the children for Connie.
As of this trip there is still no 501(c)(3) to which people can make tax-deductible contributions—that will come when she finds a sympathetic lawyer who will create one for her pro-bono—so those who believe in her mission have to give Connie cash in that belief that she is using it entirely for the children of Vietnam who depend deeply on volunteers. But meeting her, reading her blog and looking at her photos, it’s impossible not to believe. “If I were a doctor now, I’d be able to save your life.”
Donate money for Connie’s mission at You Caring: bit.ly/Psy7u9