Ann Fournier, founder, 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.
For 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, previous 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."
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."
Duazhon is a small, impoverished town in Liberia, about 55 miles south of Monrovia, the West African nation's capital. Like most of the country, it has no electricity or running water. Its water supply is, in fact, often so contaminated, ingesting it can, and does, kill. Roads surrounding the town are sometimes muddy dirt tracks that, in the rainy season, are nearly impassable. The people are desperately poor, health care is all but nonexistent and life is often brutally hard to sustain.
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