Madison is Home to Many With an International Reach [Wisconsin State Journal]

From the Wisconsin State Journal
August 10, 2009

While Madison is far from foreign countries and international borders, it’s home to many people who delve into international problems, some working at an individual and grass-roots level.

The city’s international sensibility and influence come through in its 10 sister-city relationships and its international student population of nearly 4,000. More than 1,000 people from the Madison area have served in the Peace Corps, said spokeswoman Christine Torres.

“Ma dison has a wonderful spirit of reaching out to strangers with the graceful assumption that these are our brothers and sisters that we have not yet met,” said Bill King, pastor emeritus of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison.

Sending books to Africa

Carol and Bob Dombroski had a problem: They had collected hundreds of used books and wanted to deliver them to children in Africa but didn’t know how.

Carol Dombroski, a retired elementary teacher from McFarland, had provided books to teachers from South Africa during the summer of 2004. And she still had plenty of other books in her basement.

The Dombroskis realized individual efforts for international charity can be daunting. It’s important to plug into the expertise and capabilities of established groups, Bob Dombroski said.

The two connected with the Madison Breakfast Rotary Club to secure a storage space in Madison. Volunteers organize and pack the books, which are sent to a Rotary facility in Houston and then on to South Africa.

“A lot of people would like to help, but they don’t know how,” Bob Dombroski said. “We provide a way for them do that. We make it easy.”

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Aiding health care in the Congo

It was the loss of Emilie Ngo-Nguidjol Songolo’s brother, Robert Banoum, that inspired her to form AFRICaide in 2005, an organization in Madison that supports efforts in rural African communities. Songolo, in Madison, received a call from Cameroon on Dec. 24, 2000, saying her brother was in a coma. Banoum had offered to drive a family to a rural area for the holidays. “There was an accident, and it took too long for help to reach him,” Songolo said.

“It made me realize how important it is to provide health care for those who need it,” she said.

AFRICaide focuses on providing aid to remote areas of Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where “a lot of help doesn’t sink down to,” Songolo said.

Her goal is to raise awareness. “Human nature is such that once we know about what is going on, we will not be indifferent toward it,” Songolo said.

The organization spoke to audiences in Madison in March and raised funds to purchase and send two motorcycles to the Congo. The motorcycles are important because cars often can’t get through to the rural areas where patients require care. AFRICaide also collects and sends medical equipment, supplies, medicine and vitamins. The next goal is a sponsorship between people in Madison and women and children in Uvira, a city in eastern Congo.

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Sustainable buildings in Haiti

When Scott Hamel, 31, travels to Haiti, he gets to be an engineer again.

Hamel, a doctoral student in civil engineering at UW-Madison, was a professional engineer before he returned to school. He leads trips through the Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders, helping design sustainable structures for impoverished communities in Haiti.

One challenge Hamel faces as a project manager is getting survey and rainfall data before beginning engineering projects. His solution was to develop a survey class in Haiti that allows community members to help with data collection and also to generate income. The first class, taught in January, had about 30 students, Hamel said.

Last year, a hurricane flooded northern Haiti and destroyed the approach to a bridge he designed and built in 2006. The bridge remained, suspended but intact, in the middle of the river. Despite the setback, “it was exhilarating to see,” Hamel said, because it was one of few structures still standing.

In addition to engineering, Hamel also helps his students assess communities for other needs, including health care, energy supply and education.

“With international projects, you can try to impose U.S. standards of engineering but not cultural standards,” Hamel said. “I’m still learning how to interact with their culture and guide my students.”

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Helping create hope in Guatemala, Tanzania

Karen Klemp, 55, and her husband, Rick, 57, have taken nearly 30 trips to Guatemala and Tanzania since 2002. In 2006, they formed Hope 2 Others, a Christian ministry, and continue to travel to the two countries for projects involving hygiene, water purification, health care and education.

A goal of Hope 2 Others is to send more than just supplies, said Karen Klemp, who has worked in the newborn intensive care unit at Meriter Hospital for 33 years.

“We are building a relationship,” she said. “They are tired of seeing things being done halfway.”

The ministry has learned to adapt to challenges inherent in international work. Members are working to raise $80,000 to build a medical facility in Tanzania that would be made of pre-fabricated metal components, making for easier delivery and construction.

“It’s like a clinic in a container,” Rick Klemp said. “It will take 10 people about two weeks to finish the entire clinic, and it will be fully functional when we leave.”

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Aiding small loans in Central America

The story of how Carlos Arenas, 42, became involved with microfinance can be told as a love story. Arenas is the executive director of Madison’s Working Capital for Community Needs, which connects investors in the United States with microcredit borrowers in Central America. Funds are managed by 19 partner agencies in Central America and go toward different initiatives, including urban entrepreneurs, rural producers and issues of women’s empowerment, housing and fair trade.

Arenas, who is originally from Colombia, first came to Madison in 1994 for an event sponsored by the UW-Madison sociology department. There he met his future wife, Amanda Hammatt, Arenas said.

The two were married in Colombia in 1996. Because of Hammatt’s ties to the area, it made sense to return to Madison for law school, Arenas said.

After he graduated in 2001, Arenas joined WCCN as executive director. At that time, the organization managed $3 million.

Arenas praises the collective knowledge of the staff for the success of the organization. It now manages $10 million.
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Training, education in rural Peru

Bill King, 73, has taken four trips to Peru with the Downtown Madison Rotary Club in support of CECADE, an school in Peru that provides training and education to help rural communities become self-sufficient. CECADE is a Spanish acronym that means “institute for enabling people to live well,” King said.

Volunteer teachers at the school come from the nearby city of Cuzco. Women and men attend classes to learn skills that they are expected to take back and share with their villages.

“In my eyes, it is a wonderful empowerment of the people,” King said.

Women learn how to use computers and how to weave and make clothing that is marketable. They also learn about proper sanitation, solar collectors and beekeeping. The men learn skills including woodcarving and how to make windows and doors.

“I came back thinking they have done more for me than I have done for them,” King said. “I kept going back because I believed in the direction of the school and its purpose. I could see changes happening in the people.”

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