... Ann Cambra cont.
Cambra, 62, who will formally receive the award at a ceremony at the Rochester Council on Aging on Sept. 10, has earned the honor through an impressive range of community service involvement. She is a volunteer for the AARP Tax-Aide program at the Fairhaven and Rochester Councils on Aging, for the Coastline Elderly Services Money Management Program in New Bedford and for the Fairhaven Community Nurses Association's hospice program. In 1991, she and her husband Michael started a scholarship for Old Rochester Regional High School students, named in honor of their late son, Greg.
Cambra, however, said she is proudest of the non-profit charity she runs that donates funds and resources to poor villages in Liberia, Africa. It is where the $1,500 she will receive from the award will go.
In 2006, when she was the chief financial officer in a shipping business, a Worcester pastor she knew introduced her to a man who was looking for an oversized crate for sending clothes and shoes to his family in Liberia. Cambra said she would handle the shipping costs if the man could collect enough to fill a 40-foot container. He succeeded in doing so; Cambra paid for his travel to Liberia as well, so he could make sure the shipment arrived. A charity was born that continues to this day.
Cambra said Mission to Liberia has since shipped housing and medical equipment to Liberia. One year, it sent supplies to fight the African Ebola epidemic. This year, she will use the AARP award to fund a new well for a Liberian village. She also volunteers for the Fairhaven Community Nurses Association in the hospice program along with Bob, her dog; the pet provides a calming influence on hospice patients. Cambra said it is hard not to love the elders she meets in the course of her volunteer work. "They have so much to teach you. People don't realize what they have to offer. I haven't met one elderly person I haven't loved." She said she is very humbled by being singled out for the AARP honor. "Every member of my family volunteers in some way or another," she said. "Why just me? Sometimes volunteers want what they do to be kept quiet."
The award will be presented to Cambra at a ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 10 from 2- 4 p.m. at the Rochester Senior Center, 67 Dexter Lane, Rochester.
... Mike Cambra cont.
For his humanitarian efforts to help the less fortunate, Mr. Cambra has been named The Standard-Times 2008 Rochester Man of the Year.
Nominations for the award came from the community and members of the newspaper staff. Recipients were selected by a newsroom
committee. His Liberian effort began with a chance meeting in 2005 and a request for his help in shipping used clothing and shoes to the
beleaguered population. Mr. Cambra, who was in the export business, had contacts in shipping worldwide. A 40-foot container
filled with donated items duly made its way to Africa. But that was merely the beginning of his involvement. Mr. Cambra was
so impressed by the efforts of Liberian refugee Joseph Deranamie to help those left behind that he, too, became completely
immersed in the relief operation. Today, he is chairman of the board of the nonprofit Mission to Liberia, which, with support
from a number of communities in Massachusetts, has succeeded in building a health clinic in the town of Duazohn. But much
more remains to be done, Mr. Cambra said. "The greatest need is for health care professionals, so we took a trip to the University
of Liberia School of Pharmacy and Medicine. It's just four walls and a blackboard. They have no electricity, no water, no books, no
lab equipment." Mission to Liberia has now focused on three primary objectives, he said. First, it offers direct aid to the local people
in the form of clothing, medicine and much-needed items like mosquito nets. Secondly, it plans to further expand the clinic and its
programs to offer living space for medical professionals and to provide educational outreach to the local population on such important
health care issues as hygiene, malaria prevention and AIDS.
Mission to Liberia also hopes to supply the university school with a fully equipped teaching lab, including textbooks and microscopes,
stethoscopes and other instruments. Mr. Cambra, who officially retired from his business just six weeks ago, is reluctant to accept
any praise for what has been accomplished. "A lot of the credit has to go to my friends and neighbors in SouthCoast who raised money
for all this."
... Taunton Gazette cont.
The students bested their goal of $2,800 set in October by raising a total of $4,500.
This has been the third year Friedman students participated in raising private donations for Mission to Liberia, a nonprofit whose founder,
Michael Cambra, spoke Friday morning to the school’s approximately 800 students — all of whom sat in rapt and respectful attention in the
school’s gym. This year’s donation will go toward installation of a well and water pump in a village to benefit a school called Young Christians
Academy. “It’s a good day to be in Taunton and a good day for Liberians,” an emotional Cambra said as he addressed students and faculty.
Cambra and his wife, Ann, formed their nonprofit in 2005 as a way of engaging schools to inspire students to help one of the poorest countries
in the world. Liberia and neighboring countries also have been hit hard with the Ebola virus. The disease, although not as rampant as in 2014,
reportedly has killed nearly 3,000 Liberians. Cambra, 61, complimented Friedman students for exhibiting “mindfulness and empathy.”
“I think you’ve learned pretty well,” he said, before choking up and pausing. The now-retired Cambra, who previously ran a successful shipping
container business, told the crowd the water-related project would cost $6,000. Fortunately, he said, a member of his board anonymously
donated the balance of $1,500. And although the students at Friedman have never met their Liberian counterparts, Cambra said: “You are
making an enormous impact on their lives (and) it has a ripple effect.” Friedman Principal Kathy Perry said the student body had engaged in a
“truly concentrated effort.” “You should be proud of yourselves,” Perry said.
Money raised two years ago by students was used for livestock. And although some goats eventually were used for food by desperately hungry
villagers, Cambra said one named Friedman still thrives. Cambra said the collaboration between his group and Friedman resulted from an email
between sixth-grade teacher Nancy LeClair and Geri Graham, the latter of whom serves as secretary for Mission to Liberia.
LeClair later said students and so-called ambassadors, students who stepped up to the challenge to organize the effort in each of 30 homerooms,
are to be credited for their creativity and effort. She said many students baked goods or made jewelry as part of a “grassroots effort” in which
sales were held at various events. She also said that most donations came from adults other than parents. “I’m proud of them, because this is not
an affluent community,” LeClair, 53, said.
One 12-year-old ambassador, sixth-grader Aidan Scully, said he came up with the idea of a newsletter to keep track of donations and the
fundraising goal. Another, Eric Almon, also 12, said he created a webpage to keep track of progress. Almon said he sometimes would get as many
as 20 to 30 online hits per day. Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr., school Superintendent Julie Hackett and members of the Taunton School Committee attended
the event, which featured a presentation of a mock-up of a large check for $4,500. Comfort Doely-Leonard was also there.
Doely-Leonard, a native of Liberia, said she and her siblings snuck out of Liberia and fled to the United States in 1990 as the first Liberian Civil War
raged, during which she said neighbors were murdered and sometimes beheaded. She said she eventually got a masters degree in education from
Cambridge College in Massachusetts. She moved to Taunton 12 years ago, has three children, two in college and one a student at Coyle and Cassidy
School, and works as a psychotherapist at Northeast Health Services in Taunton. “I’m so proud of these kids,” Doeley-Leonard said. “They don’t realize
the magnitude of what they’ve done.”
... Local Group on a Mission cont.
Fournier talks emotionally about an area she visited called Rock Hill. "It brought tears to my eyes," she says. "The youngsters' faces were covered with dust. That's because they spent the day with a hammer breaking large rocks into medium rocks"» and medium rocks into small rocks"» and small rocks into smaller rocks. I was told that they worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week."
"When the rocks were small enough," Fournier goes on, "a construction company truck picked them up at the bottom of a very steep, rutted hill, but the kids had to get the rocks down the hill first. Some of the children working there were so small, maybe 4 or 5 years old. But other kids were older ... 16 or 17. Some were covered with rashes and many of them were coughing from what I was told was the inhalation of the rock dust."
For many Liberians, survival is a daily struggle. One out of every five children die before they reach the age of five. Less than 3 percent of the population survives to the age of 65.
"In one area I visited," says Fournier, "the people lived in houses that were really just huts built into the mangrove swamps. I was told that 20 or 30 people sometimes live crowded together in one small hut"»many of them little children. They often don't have enough food, clean water or any access to medical care."
Liberia was engulfed in a civil war after a military coup in 1980. A peace agreement in August 2003 finally ended hostilities and democratic elections were held in late 2005, but, during the war years, both the country and its people bled.
"I asked about sanitation and bathroom facilities because the odor is very intense in some of the areas we visited," says Fournier. "I was told that because of the war the infrastructure was destroyed. Other than in a few government buildings in Monrovia, there is no electricity except for generators. There is no clean water except for the wells the UN and organizations like Mission to Liberia have installed. Bathrooms are almost non-existent."
Fournier traveled to Liberia in 2012, but her journey really began seven years earlier, in 2005.
She happened to meet her former pastor at a funeral that year. He told her about a Liberian refugee in his Worcester congregation named Joseph Deranamie who was collecting used shoes to send back to his native country.
Why shoes? Deranamie the answer was simple. "Because the people don't have them," he said. "They share shoes because there aren't enough to go around."
People in his community were moved by his project and donated shoes, hundreds and hundreds of pairs that soon began to overflow the basements of two Lutheran churches in Worcester.
Now that they had the shoes, her pastor said, they needed a way to get them to Liberia.
How to do that?
Ann Fournier thought she might know a way.
Fournier knew Mike Cambra and his wife, Ann, of Rochester. They owned a shipping company. In late winter, 2005, Fournier discussed the shoes with the Cambras, who were immediately interested in the project.
Mike Cambra, now the chairman of Mission to Liberia's board, recalls that, " My wife and I told Ann and Joseph that if enough shoes, clothing and medicine were collected to fill a 40 foot container, we would commit to getting that container to Liberia." The project now had its running shoes on. As word spread, offers of help poured in to the group. Several schools throughout
Massachusetts participated in class projects and book drives that collected thousands of children's books to send along with the shoes. Businesses and private donors helped with larger projects that the group now began to plan. In May 2006, the first container, filled with donations of medicine, clothes, shoes and a van to reach outlying areas, left for Liberia.
That was just the beginning.
"After we saw Joseph passing out those shoes on a video, we knew that couldn't be the end of it," Fournier says. "We could do more. Our focus then became the building of a clinic. We formed a non-profit organization called Mission to Liberia to facilitate that in 2007."
Fournier adds that, "We chose to begin our efforts in Duazhon because it is on the main road that runs between the capital and the international airport. It is easily accessible to the local population and is well situated for our distribution efforts."
Realizing that the area would need to be able to sustain its health care, Mission to Liberia expanded its efforts.
"There are fewer than 200 doctors and about 24 pharmacists in Liberia to serve a country of approximately 3.8 million people," says Mike Cambra. "Health care education was clearly a priority."
In 2010, Mission to Liberia shipped $300,000 worth of donated medical and pharmaceutical text books and computers to the Dogliotti School of Medicine, a part of the University of Liberia.
"Because disease runs rampant, in part due to the prevalence of contaminated water," says Fournier, "our organization completed four new water projects and the rebuilding of an existing well in a leper colony in 2012."
Not only has the organization continued its work at the clinic, it has sent containers filled with relief goods, medical and school supplies and children's books to Liberia in 2008 and 2010 and hopes to send another container in the Fall of 2012." Donations are the life blood of Mission to Liberia.
"Donations come in many forms, whether it's the books and sports equipment that the school children collect or the support we receive from businesses and private donors," Fournier says.
She adds that, "all of the board's members are volunteers. One hundred percent of every dollar that is donated to the organization goes to Liberia to address the people's health needs."
Speaking about Mission to Liberia, Cambra says that "although we are a small organization and don't have a lot of funds, we try to make a difference in the quality of these people's lives where we can. It may be in just one school, for one family, at one orphanage, or for one child at a time, but it is a start."