Ray Bingham turned 80 on New Year’s Day 2018, but he is not old. According to him, age is more about attitude than a number. Sometimes his body gives him some trouble, but he just stops by Dr. Tadje’s office for a little help and he’s off on his way again. He’s had a full and busy life working hard as a cabinet maker to provide for his large family. At 80, life has hardly slowed down for Ray. Whether it’s spending time with grandkids, working on his sprinkler system, or remodeling his house, Ray keeps his plate full. He’s had an amazing life, and the last couple of years have brought more adventure than Ray had ever expected.
About 16 years ago, he was on an LDS mission in Australia. One day, he visited a family who had recently been on a vacation to the Philippines. They asked if he would like to see some pictures of their trip. Part way through the presentation, he saw a picture of an extremely skinny young girl who had a terrible cleft palate. The image struck him so powerfully, he instantly knew he needed to help her. He found out her name was Genalyn Amar, she was about 11 years old, and she lived on a remote island in the Philippines. He contacted LDS Social Services, who referred him to the Mabuhay Deseret Foundation. This foundation is located in Manila, and is dedicated to helping people in the Philippines with birth defects.
Genalyn’s family lived in absolute poverty, so every need had to be carefully addressed and provided for. Ray was determined to do whatever it took to help this little girl. He made all of the arrangements so Genalyn and her mom could travel to Manila for the surgery. When they arrived, Genalyn was very ill. She was malnourished, anemic, and had tuberculosis. It took the doctors several months to get her healthy enough for her cleft palate surgery. Ray sent her a teddy bear to keep her company during her long hospital stay. He stayed informed of Genalyn’s progress through the foundation administrator. He was relieved and pleased when she made it safely through the entire process and was able to return home to her family.
Many years passed and Ray still thought about Genalyn. He decided if he was going to meet her, he needed to make it happen soon. He wasn’t sure how to find her, but he searched through his things and found an address he thought might work. He wrote her a letter, asking if she remembered him and told her he would love to meet her. Six weeks later he got an email from Genalyn saying that she would love to meet him too. After he had booked his ticket, he was able to connect with Genalyn through video chat. At first, she held up a teddy bear in front of her face. She asked through her sister, who was translating, if he remembered the teddy bear he had sent her during her hospital stay. When she removed it, Ray saw that she only had 1 protruding tooth left and he wept. During their conversation, he found out that Genalyn’s 3 year old daughter, Abby, was also born with a cleft palate. He decided he wanted to help them both while he was in the Philippines.
Genalyn, two of her sisters, and Abby met Ray at the Manila airport. Meeting them in person for the first time left Ray completely overcome with emotion. They were such beautiful people who had suffered so much in life, yet they were happy. He felt drawn to them and they made an instant connection. He immediately became their “Uncle Ray.” Before traveling to their home on the island of Mindoro, he wanted to start the process for Abby’s surgery. They took her to a clinic that was referred to them by the Mabuhay Deseret Foundation. They found that she had pneumonia and worms, and would need at least one week of medication before she would be ready for surgery. They gathered the medications she needed and decided to treat her at home.
Ray was able to stay in the Amar family’s humble home. He was amazed that in spite of having little food and few opportunities, they were so happy. They treated him like a king, sharing their sparse food with him, and insisting he eat first at every meal. While he was there, he met Genalyn’s parents, siblings, and some neighbors. He was overwhelmed at all of the poverty and intense need. He started forming plans for how he could help.
Ray’s first goal was to get Abby’s cleft palate surgery done, which the foundation’s doctors performed right after he returned home. The next thing was to help Genalyn with her teeth. Before leaving for home, he arranged with the foundation to do her dental work. After 4 months, Genalyn had functional teeth and a beautiful smile. She had never been to school because of how badly she was tormented, and can neither read nor write. But now she feels like she has been given the world, because Ray has made it possible for Abby to have those opportunities she never had.
After getting back home, he started tackling some of his other goals. All of Genalyn’s sisters had serious dental needs. Last March, he traveled back to the Philippines and was able to arrange for them and some of their neighbors to get their dental work done as well. He was also able to help with some groceries, school supplies, shoes, and some other basic needs.
When Ray goes back in November, he has more goals to accomplish. On the top of his list is to help one of Genalyn’s neighbors, a 14 year old boy whose feet were badly burned and have turned under. Ray has been working to line up plastic and orthopedic surgeons to do the necessary surgeries for this young boy, and can’t wait to see how life opens back up for him.
Ray knows he can’t do everything, but he is determined to do something. He’s changing lives one goal at a time. He’s full of gratitude that he’s able to be Uncle Ray to Genalyn and her family. He’s grateful for the connections, the miracles, and the opportunities that have opened up to him. At this point, he plans to just keep on running as long as he can. Because at 80 years young, he still has a lot to give.
Written By: Rebecca Howard