Serving the World
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At a time when most Americans are worrying about jobs and mortgages and college tuition, a handful of local citizens are equally concerned about the less fortunate in places far from the security and comfort of Fairfield County. Through private philanthropies called NGOs, for nongovernmental organizations, they are connecting compassionate individual Americans with people in Third World countries and helping address problems across a broad sweep of issues — from human rights and the environment to the technology gap, education and, of course, natural disasters.
If the need appears greater today than ever before, so do the spirit and determination of local philanthropists and volunteers.
“America has this phenomenal reservoir of goodwill that is very deep,” says Tom Schultz, a New Canaan resident, business executive and founder of the Canaan Foundation, which provides free second-hand computers to schools in Kenya and Cameroon. “It makes a difference to people in Third World countries that it’s not the government. It’s us as individuals, as volunteers, who are making these programs go, and on energy and enthusiasm more than anything else.”
As it turns out, New Canaan, Darien and Rowayton have long histories of such grass-roots efforts. Following are snapshots of five local NGOs — from the large and very businesslike to the small and more short-term — that are making a difference somewhere in the world.
A paradigm of NGOs locally as well as globally is AmeriCares, the international relief organization founded in 1982 by longtime New Canaan residents Robert and Leila Macauley. A former corporate president and director, Bob Macauley was active in a number of charities early in his career — serving as president of Covenant House and advisor to the National Executive Service Corps and World Share and being a friend and supporter of Mother Teresa. But it took a private audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1981 to get him to start his own philanthropy.
“The pope said, ‘I know about your fundraising activities,’” Macauley noted recently. “And he asked, is there anything you can do to help my people in Poland?” The country had no internal medical structure at the time and was in desperate need of medicines. “When the pope asks you a question like that, do you say, ‘Pope, I’m a little tied up right now?’ No.”
Working out of a closet in their home outfitted with a small desk and a telephone, the Macauleys enlisted a few friends and set a goal of $50,000’s worth of medicine. By the end of the first year, they had raised $3 million in donations from pharmaceutical companies; by the second year, $13 million; and by the third year, $40 million to $50 million.
That early effort grew into AmeriCares, which today delivers medicines, medical supplies and aid to people in crisis around the world. The organization works with other NGOs, hospitals, health networks, governments and corporate partners like Wyeth, the pharmaceutical giant. Two warehouses, one in Stamford, the other in Europe, serve as inventory centers.
Since its founding AmeriCares has provided more than $7 billion in aid to 137 countries. Last year it rushed supplies and set up field hospitals in China following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, and in Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. It also shipped more than 245,000 bottles of water to aid in flood and tornado relief in the midwestern United States. And, as one of the few relief organizations allowed to fly directly into Darfur in Sudan, it has delivered more than fifteen tons of medicines and medical supplies to West Dafur.
At home, meanwhile, the organization runs three community programs — AmeriCares HomeFront, AmeriCares Free Clinics and Camp AmeriKids — for those in need in Connecticut and New York.
In 2006 the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked AmeriCares third among U.S. charities based on its support from individuals, foundations and corporations. And last year Forbes named it one of seventeen nonprofits with “100 percent fundraising efficiency.”
Now aged eighty-four, Bob has retired as chairman of AmeriCares, though Leila remains involved as vice chairman. With 150 employees, the charity outgrew its New Canaan base and moved operations to Stamford.
“NGOs are terribly important and they always will be,” Bob says. “They’re about compassion and being thankful for what you have, and being willing to share what you have with others.”
Call 658-9500 or 1-800-486-HELP (4357) or visit americares.org.