Who is Dr. Gabriella Nanci, and What is Yonkofa Project Inc. in Ghana?
The following two paragraphs are an addition to this hub:
I would like to point out that I’m not what some people may consider as a bleeding heart liberal. I consider myself a citizen of the world and a realist. We live on the only planet in our solar system that presently sustains life. When I first published this article, there were people I know socially that made comments like, “It’s a shame the doctor doesn’t use her skill in the United States.” This narrowness of opinion bothered me, and at times made me wonder if the real motivation behind the remarks was a lack of empathy for these African people because they’re not Americans.
With the rapid growth of technology in transportation, all parts of our world have become easily accessible. This also means that diseases and deadly viruses with the capability of killing millions of people can hitch a ride from one place on the planet to another in a matter of several hours. My interest in the World Health Organization stems partly from this fact that rapid worldwide transmission of a deadly virus is now easily possible. So whatever the WWO does around the world to prevent and wipe out disease is beneficial to every human being on our planet.
Recently while surfing the web for information about the World Health Organization, I came across the name, Yonkofa Project Inc., and was curious about it. On their site, I found it is a nonprofit organization not affiliated with any religion, which gives medical aid to the Ghanaian people of Africa. The medical doctor in charge of this project is Dr. Gabriella Nanci. The services she is providing are very impressive.
There were several sites with information about the project including Facebook, which gave a reference to Swansboro, NC. I wondered what connection a town in North Carolina had with the Yonkofa Project in Africa. Facebook page had the name Soni Nanci posted, so out of curiosity I contacted her to find out more information about Gabriella Nanci, who turned out to be her daughter. The following is my interview with her:
Q. What is the connection of the Yonkofa Project to Swansboro, NC?
A. I believe that is where Gabriella filed for the Yonkofa non-profit status through an attorney friend.
Q. Can you give me some interesting background information on Gabriella?
A. Well right from the start, her Nona said, “This baby is an old soul.” That’s an Italian thing, and I’m not quite sure what it means— other than she existed before at another time.
Q. What was she like as a child?
A. I'd say she was a born vegetarian. She said she liked to eat colors and pretty things and said, “Meat is not a pretty." Sometimes she'd shiver when she looked at it, and that was before she knew what it was.
When she was three, she found out the KFC we were eating was "Real creature chicken." She was horrified. She said she hated us and had her first tantrum about how could we eat animals. Soon after, she found out people kill animals to make meat, and she went through more heartbreak. She worried someone would eat our dogs, cats and goats. Now she'll eat some fish when someone serves it to her as a vegetarian food.
Q. Was there anything else that made her stand out?
A. She loved to play the piano and took lessons before she started school. She never had to be reminded to practice. It was what she loved to do.
Q. How did she do in her primary school years?
A. She did fine, but it hurt her feelings in second grade, when her school said she needed Special Ed because she was ambidextrous, couldn't jump rope, and kicked ball with the wrong foot— but I knew she was playing amazing piano pieces, so she was obviously fine tuning small muscle coordination. A short time later, I saw her walking the top board of the corral fence carrying a feed bucket. I was sure she was developing normally, so I requested that they remove her from that program. The school may have been overly zealous in diagnosing kids to fill Special Ed programs.
Q. Did she display altruistic behavior at an early age?
A. When she was in the third and fourth grade, one of her favorite things was to go to the rest home where my precious grandmother was with dementia. I'm sorry Gab had to know her like that. My grandma was such a sweet, kind person. She had terrible bouts of paranoia and didn't want anyone near her, so Gab would sneak over and leave a candy or a gift. She started taking her scented paper or cotton balls, cinnamon, peppermint, etc. Grandma would rub them on her face. It was a great idea and calmed her better than the drugs. People told me it wasn't good to let a child see this, but I felt by showing a child we still love someone, even though their mind was gone, we will never forget what they had been. Anyway, Gab enjoyed going and made friends with patients.
Gab would take goodies and little gifts and spend time listening to them, writing letters for them and fixing their hair. Some days it was funny to see so many women in wheel chairs with identical French braids or bows.
She used to round up some of the patients to take them to the recreation room and play piano for them. The staff called Gabriella, Nurse Nancy, and she didn't bat an eye about assisting patients and feeding them.
Q. Did her school realize they were dealing with a gifted child?
A. She was in gifted programs, but it was busy work. When I told her principal that she was bored, they gave her more busy work and two classes as a tutor and office assistant. She wanted time for her own projects, such as writing letters and making phone calls to governments and embassies on issues to stop the seal slaughter in Canada, to let the Jews emigrate from Russia, and to Stop the Whaling. She had an interest in Farm Sanctuary, Seed Savers, MS, Save the School Ag Farm, etc, etc. There was never a lack of activism, and she wrote a weekly column with By Line for the town paper.
Q. You mentioned pets and other animals earlier. How did she relate to these animals?
A. She loved all animals. Starting in the fifth grade, she began researching unimproved heritage livestock. When she learned about an old Irish breed of mini cattle, she tracked down the name of the breed, Dexters (http://www.oldereminiscefarms.com/breed-info) and that led her to the American Minor Breed Conservancy (AMBC). With the blessings of AMBC, she started the first Minor Breeds 4-H group and arranged with the CS Fund for the donation of 17 rare Navajo Churro sheep to her 4-H group. Utah State University had rounded up the flock of the last 30 Navajo sheep that survived wild in a canyon, after the US government slaughtered the sheep to subjugate the Navajos.
Her menagerie grew to include Jacob, Shetland, and Navajo sheep, Fainting goats, African Guinea Hogs, and Poultry. Through her animals, she made friends with people in all fields. There were lawyers, geneticists, historians, authors, veterinarians, librarians and conservationists, to name a few. She learned from all of them.
Q. How did you resolve the time conflict she was feeling about her projects?
A. In 6th grade, she said she wanted to Home School, so we did some research and connected with homeschooling families in our town. I read books on homeschooling and realized we were already doing it the non-structured way. The homeschool motto is “Doing is Learning”. I just supplied materials and opportunities and encouraged her interests. We joined a homeschool organization founded by a former public school administrator. That legal umbrella allowed her to take the CHSPE (CA High School Proficiency Exam) to get her HS diploma at age fourteen and then she started taking college courses. The next year she wanted to go to the community college full time to take Piano and Oceanography.
Q. When did she decide to become a doctor?
A. After Gabriella got a BA in Global Arts at the CSUSM, she ran a community theatre for the City of Oceanside, CA, and she was the musical director for several theaters before deciding to become a doctor.
Q. How did she then become involved in medical service in Africa?
A. After graduating from St Joseph’s medical school, her surgery preceptor in Atlanta invited her on a medical mission to Ghana. She went, was very impressed with the mission effort, and saw the need for permanent health clinics in rural Ghana that would employ Ghanaian nurses and facilitate visiting medical missions.
Gabriella realized the terrible tropical diseases, such as anemia, typhoid fever, and malaria that caused so much death and suffering were preventable and curable, if health care was available. She established the Yonkofa Project as a nonprofit organization. Yonkofa means friendship in Twi. With the help of volunteers and fundraising, the first prefabricated building arrived for installation in remote Yiwabra, Ghana, in February 2012. She recently sold 20+ Dexters to help pay for the clinic.
Next month Gabriella will go back with a team and set up equipment donated from many sources.
DF— Soni, thank you for doing this interview and sharing some personal things about your daughter. She is an amazing human being who unselfishly puts the welfare of others as her first priority in life.
I would also like to commend you for having the strength of belief in Gabriella’s uniqueness, for having the foresight to recognize the needs of a truly gifted child, and for taking on the formidable task of homeschooling. You are also gifted.
Soni—Thank you Don. Yes, I feel gifted, but only in the sense that Dr. Gabriella Nanci is my daughter. She is a blessing to me and to the world.
©Don Fiduccia and Soni Nanci 2012
You can show your appreciation of Dr. Nanci's work by going to YouTube and clicking Like for this video.