Mr. Cambra exudes energy and commitment as he talks about his recent experiences. He sits on the edge of his chair and animatedly gestures as he speaks about Liberia’s dire poverty and its lack of health care and medical supplies.
“We visited one very poor area where the huts are built in the mangrove swamps on land the people filled in themselves. The simplest medications and staples are not available to them. Joseph’s niece lives in a small hut with 27 other people, 15 of them little children. It’s heartbreaking,” says Mr. Cambra.
He displays photos of the new clinic with the enthusiasm of a proud new parent.
“We chose Duazohn for the clinic because it’s on the main road that runs between the international airport and the capital, one of the few paved roads in the area. The site is well situated for our distribution efforts and is easily accessible to the local population,” he explains. “The first floor is almost complete now, and we’ll soon begin construction of the second and third floors.”
Duazohn is a small town about 55 miles south of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. It has no electricity or running water. The surrounding roads are often muddy dirt tracks that, in the rainy season, are nearly impassable. The people are desperately poor and health care is all but nonexistent. The area, and all of Liberia, was engulfed in civil war after a military coup in 1980. A peace agreement in August 2003
finally ended hostilities, but during the war years both the country and its people bled. Joseph Deranamie and his family were swept up in that chaotic vortex.
It was just before Christmas 1989 when rebels launched a failed coup that would ignite civil war. Mr. Deranamie, a naturally soft-spoken man, becomes visibly emotional when he says that he thought his family’s house in a company-owned plantation compound was the safest place to be during the turmoil. He, his family and several of his neighbors decided to stay there rather than try to escape. Safety
was an illusion. It fled along with the government troops when the rebel forces arrived at the compound. “The rebels began going house to house to search for loyalists. They pulled me out of my house and started to torture me. When my 2-year-old son saw me lying on the ground, he ran to me. The rebels shot him, killed him right in front of my eyes,” he says, then pauses, his voice momentarily catching on
“I was taken to jail and was to be executed. As I was digging my own grave down by the river, one of the rebels, a former schoolmate, recognized me and saved my life,” he continues. “He let me escape. I lived in the bushes and in refugee camps in the Ivory Coast and in Ghana for the next 10 years.” Eventually, through the Red Cross, Mr. Deranamie was reunited with several members of his family.
In February 2000, he emigrated to the United States and ultimately settled in the Worcester area. He immediately began to collect used shoes and clothing to send back to those left behind.
"People in the camps didn’t have them. They would share shoes because there weren’t enough to go around,” recalls Mr. Deranamie. “I asked the pastor of my church if she would help me collect shoes to send to them.” His pastor did help. The shoes began to pile up, hundreds and hundreds of pairs that he and two Lutheran Church congregations in the Worcester area collected.
They had the shoes. Now they needed a way to get them to Liberia. Fate stepped in to bring Joseph Deranamie and Mike Cambra together.
In late winter 2005, Mike and his wife Ann attended the funeral of a friend. Dartmouth resident Ann Fournier was also there. Having learned about Mr. Deranamie through Worcester clergy, Ms. Fournier shared the story about Joseph and his shoes with the Cambras.
The Cambras owned a shipping company, New England Groupage, in Holbrook. After they lost their youngest son in an automobile accident in January 1999, they established the Greg Cambra Foundation in his name to provide local scholarships and to support a variety of other community projects. Mr. Deranamie’s story sparked their interest.
“We met Joseph in our office in the spring of 2005 and were so moved by his story that we told Joseph, not only would we send the shoes he had collected, but that if he collected enough clothing, shoes and medicine, we would send a 40-foot container to Liberia,” says Mr. Cambra. “We also agreed to pay for Joseph to take the goods there himself so that the goods got to the people for whom they were intended.
Three months later, Joseph called to tell me he was ready for the container.”
In May 2006, the container, filled with medicine, clothes, shoes and a van to reach the outlying areas, left for Liberia, followed by Mr. Deranamie, who helped distribute its contents.
When Mr. Deranamie returned to the United States, he spoke about the preventable illnesses that ran rampant in the villages and what a huge difference a medical clinic in the area would make. “After we saw Joseph passing out those shoes on a video, we just knew that couldn’t be the end of it,” recalls Ms. Fournier, a member of the Mission to Liberia board of directors. “We could do more. Our focus then became the building of a clinic. We decided to form a non-profit organization to facilitate that in September 2006.”
That fall, ground was broken for the clinic. FedEx donated furniture. Morton Hospital in Taunton donated medical equipment. The clinic was becoming a reality and a second 40-foot container was filling with medical supplies and staples to be shipped to Liberia.
The contents of that second container were distributed by Mr. Deranamie and Mr. Cambra this past July. Realizing that sustainable health care is as important as medical supplies, Mission to Liberia has now expanded its goals to include aid to the local university.
“We don’t want to just address these people’s immediate medical needs. We want to help provide a sustainable solution to the area’s overwhelming health-care problems,” explains Mr. Cambra. “The University of Liberia School of Pharmacy and General Medicine lacks everything. They have no textbooks, no microscopes, just a blackboard and old wooden desks. If we help the university train enough local doctors, pharmacists and nurses, they can go out and serve many more people than we would be able to help. That is our next goal.”
Donations are the life blood of Mission to Liberia
“All of the board’s members are volunteers. If you donate to this project you know exactly where your funds are going and how they are being used. One hundred percent of every dollar that is donated to Mission to Liberia goes to Liberia to address the people’s health needs,” Mr. Cambra says.