One of the many gifts that modern times and social media bring are connections to people from different places and cultures. I was whining about some problem in drafting travel arrangements and becoming self-involved to the point I couldn’t stand myself anymore. Not seeing a way forward, a comment appeared from a FB friend talking about a change of plans and traveling abroad as part of a mission with the church. The reporter in me could not resist this. After a brief discussion, we agreed to share her story for publication. I “met” Donna through my association with fans of the musical performers: IL Volo. Like their music, her life is a gift of giving to those who can receive it. In her voice, in her story, in her heart and soul there is an extraordinarily compassionate woman.
Donna was born and raised in Massachusetts. Donna has a degree in Nursing from Northeastern University in Boston MA and is now living in Virginia with her family. She is an advocate for animal welfare. And, a fabulous IL Volo fan. She traveled to Wallingford CT in September 2013 to see the last show on the USA tour. While staying at the hotel, she and Janis were in the lobby when Piero Barone wandered through and walked right up to them saying hello, where they fans going to the show tonight. Donna met Ignazio Boschetto as well and enjoys sharing this picture with fans.
Donna is currently a member of the City Life Church. Donna was a member of The West Park Church of Christ. The congregation has as a mission statement: “To worship the Lord, Together To share the good news of Christ, together. To provide quality care for everyone to grow, together.” They routinely,” support over twenty different Missions in many different parts of the world. We believe in doing our utmost to see that the great commission is carried out in as many places as possible.” The missionaries travel to India, Thailand, Peru, Mexico and Zimbabwe. The volunteers go to support International Disaster Emergency Services as well as deliver essential services and maintain schools in remote, sometimes hostile environments.
Everyone has a different ability to give of themselves in times of need. The best some of us can do is send financial support to a fund established for relief. Donna is the unusual person who takes that desire to help and does it herself. She follows her heart and does not hesitate. Something will carry her along, something goes with her on every mission.
Her first mission abroad was to Thailand for three weeks in 2002. She stated that the trip was arranged for travel in the fall and Donna was considering many ways to raise the necessary funds of $1800 in plane fare for she and her son Zachary. The departure date was moved up to July and when it seemed the mission may be fading away, something unusual happened. Donna had been in a car accident the year before and through the process of settling accounts, a check arrived in her mail box for $1400 a few days later. She had no idea it was owed to her or it was coming. But, something or someone was listening and helped this trip to happen. Donna said this felt like a miracle to her and a door opened for her.
The area of Northern Thailand the mission went to is close to the Burmese border. This is a remote and forested area home to the indigenous tribes of Lisu and Lahu. Many of the people given aid are refugees from Burma. They are walking out to find support and aid for their families.
Donna provided health and wellness checks at medical clinics. There are no doctors in the villages. Medical equipment and antibiotics, were partially funded by the Church and out-of-pocket by the aid workers. Villagers are treated for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, insomnia, burns from cooking fires, parasitic infections, fungal skin infections, malnutrition, dysentery, sore backs, etc. Besides a neglect in medical and dental treatment, the villagers struggle with a poor diet and limited access to clean water. Sanitation and basic necessities would be considered primitive by USA standards. Not all residents are poor, the people who receive aid are born into poverty and have limited means of escaping their circumstances with a lack of education, access to steady employment, transportation and adequate nutrition to thrive.
A vital member of this mission included Karen, a dental hygienist. The mission went into an area of Thailand that is so impoverished that no one has ever seen a dentist nor is there one to be found. Dentistry is simply not affordable and not a necessity of life. Karen spent the visit cleaning and treating villager’s teeth.
Donna spoke of the Mae Tao Clinic and the work of Dr. Cynthia in Thailand where villagers with more acute medical needs were referred. The clinic provides vital support for refugees from Burma offering health services, child protection and medical training. As a result of a long and protracted civil war in [Myanmar] Burma the countryside does contain landmines which are stepped on by villagers too frequently. The loss of a limb is the loss of daily bread. The only place available for treatment and the fitting of leg prosthetic is the Mae Tao Clinic. People get themselves through the jungles into Thailand for treatment. Also of note is the plight of migrant workers from Burma into Thailand. Apparently, the trip back over the border requires payment to border guards of half the accumulated wages. Corruption and abuse knows no boundary. It’s amazing the struggles people are facing on a daily basis.
Donna also talked of the mission volunteers purchasing a dozen cows. The cows were transported to the Bible Center and taken to the villages. On a return trip, Donna saw the cow’s offspring and conveyed the point of giving the villagers a means to obtain fresh milk as well as labor of farming and fertilization of fields. The cow gives much. Villagers gain self-sufficiency from this gift.
The purpose of the visit is to bring aid to those in need and to evangelize the Christian faith. Donna spoke of the work of Ezekiel Fish and his efforts to establish churches and bring the word of Jesus to the communities. Ezekiel has established the Maesot Biblical Training Center in Thailand. He has traveled into China, and India preaching the Gospel, providing bibles and support to those who will listen. The aid is given no matter the acceptance of the Gospel, however, it is a part of the faith to bring aid to the spirit as well as the body.
Mexico ~ YUGO Ministries
Donna has also traveled out with YUGO Ministries. The areas traveled to are Ensenada, Rosarito and Mexicali Valley, Mexico. This is a Christian Faith Based organization. Teams of volunteers travel to the area to build homes for families who are members of the church. The family name is included on a long list of requesters and eventually, a home will be constructed. Donna spoke of one family consisting of a mother, sister and daughter. Their living conditions were rustic with no front door, no bathroom and a dirt floor. The house that was built by volunteers has three rooms, small kitchen, bath with shower and running water. The volunteers built or bought the furniture for the residents.
I asked if there was a man in the family unit and Donna replied that in this area of Mexico, there are alcohol and illegal drug problems that degenerate the family unit. There is no man in the home. There is work on local farms but this is seasonal and the pay is low. There is no medical care, dental or educational services. What support there is comes from the local church.
Donna is a woman of strong faith and has followed the teachings of her church literally by actively being a compassionate Christian. While she was retelling her experiences, on more than one occasion she was overwhelmed by memories of dire need. Her strength of heart carries her into places were many of us would squirm with the living conditions. She faces the truth and carries Christ teaching of mercy to those most afflicted by poverty, hunger and want. She puts her hands on the most vulnerable of us and soothes with expert medical care. She has made several mission trips and is planning now to travel to the Dominican Republic in the fall.
“Poverty is boring and no one wants to hear about it”, said Donna. Unfortunately, this is true. It’s not that people do not care, but our lifestyle is so different from her experiences that we cannot fully understand their everyday life. Have I ever been hungry, dirty, thirsty, in pain, or hopeless? Not all at once and not at this level. To be poor is to be invisible. The face of poverty is uncomfortable and to be avoided if possible. “Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.” J. K. ROWLING, speech, Jun. 5, 2008
Water is Life – Plymouth Church of Framingham & Pommern Village Tanzania
The local Congregational Church had a notice of a Simple Supper offered to the public on the evening of April 30, 2014. I understood these events were meant to raise awareness and funds for specific charities. To understand what Donna and other volunteers are doing, I thought it helpful to attend a grassroots meeting on project work.
The communal dining room was set up cafeteria style and a fine meal of homemade soups, breads, salad and desserts were offered for a modest sum. All proceeds were earmarked for the charity showcased that evening. While standing in line for my meal, the man in front of me started a conversation, it so happened he was one of the visiting members of the Plymouth Church African Exchange Project and was eager to talk. I met with Robert Schadt, Todd Witherow, Reverend Lisa Durkee Abbot and two visitors from Pommern, East Tanzania Africa. I briefly discussed the writing of this article and was invited to his table to continue learning about this charity.
Fresh Water ~ Kilolo Water Project
“Pommern is a remote village in the Kilolo District of Iringa. In this district access to clean, water is severely limited. Some villages have no access to safe water or are more than three miles from any water source. During the time the Plymouth Group was in Pommern we worked to fund repairs for a pump and to install and repair broken pipes that provide river water to several areas of the village. While this system provides a modicum of water the quality of this river water is not good.
Bob Ahearn, who led the Plymouth Mission Trip in 2007, has long been aware of this problem. Bob and Ron Reed, Bob’s long friend and colleague have worked in Tanzania for more than 10 years. Over the past three years, Ron has begun to drill wells in the region to meet this long-standing problem. Working with a local NGO, the Iringa Development for Youth and Disabled Children, Ron has recruited technicians and trained groups of young people to work in teams using multiple drilling rigs. To date, Plymouth Church has funded 30 successful wells having been dug throughout in Pommern and the surrounding region. Yet the need for more wells is great. Forty out of the eighty villages in the district are in need of wells.” (Source – African Exchange Project)
A vocational school has been established in Pommern and the superintendent of schools, Barnabus Chavala was one of the visitors. Engera Swaiis a school teacher also accompanied him on the visit and this was her first trip outside of Tanzania. Barnabus spoke to the audience and said that the major reason he was in the US was to thank everyone for their generosity. This was his return visit having previously toured with the Pommern Village Choir.
The role of women and children within the family unit had been principally, to collect clean, safe water for cooking, cleaning and bathing in the home. The local water supply is contaminated with animal waste as well as agricultural runoff. Women also gather wood for cooking and spent as much as six hours per day in these tasks. The rate of mortality amongst children from water-borne dysentery and disease is 1 in 10. Hence the dramatic need for safe, clean water. The women walked to the clean water source and carried the water back home balanced on their heads. The men are employed in brick making and home building as well as farming of corn and wheat.
Barnabus explained to the audience that the worst consequence to the women and children was that during the collecting of water, women were physically assaulted by men and raped. I had this quick image of a mother taking along her young children on the journey for water, isolated and vulnerable to attack. She’s been knocked over, raped, most likely in front of the children, she has to survive the trauma, pick herself up and still bring water home. Barnabus stated, “today, no one does this.” He went on to say, “I have brought the spirit of love, as we are brought together here in Christ. We are sisters and brothers united in this effort, you and I are a part of the same village. This is true Christian action to provide for those in need…As a parent and a leader I thank you” Also, two neighboring villages have received wells from this same fund. Barnabus went on to say, “When judgment day comes, God will not see an American or a Pommern, he will see someone who helped others without condition, he will see your actions, God will reward in the afterlife.”
The installation of the wells was done by the locals with the assistance of labor and supplies from the Pilgrim Church volunteers. The vocational school offers training in several professions including well drilling and maintenance. After the well is installed, any problems in operation are addressed immediately. The cost of each well is $3000. That evening, $300+ was raised toward the next well.
The wells are drilled near the local schools and allow for a shift in social and economic dynamics within the village. The children, especially the girls, are now in school with a ratio of 50/50 girls and boys. The women can learn a trade at the vocational school such as tailoring. The local economy is majority dependent upon agriculture but there is an entrepreneur in every village and with a stabilized source of clean water, health, well-being, education and opportunity, will emerge. I asked Barnabus how this social shift in household roles was affecting the family. Barnabus responded that men were now able to get water from the local source. There was a bit of a language barrier here and Rob answered that there is friction now and the villagers may have to contend with concerns they hadn’t considered. Barnabus did say that the women had a well drilling team and told the story of encountering a large rock underground during the drilling process. The men would attempt to bust through the rock and often break the equipment. The women slowed down and carefully drilled through the rock working with the impediment completing their task successfully.
A complete story of the Plymouth Church African Exchange Project including music, culture, education and fresh water, is available on their web page. People interested in this volunteer effort need not be Christians to join the team. Whereas some faith based groups emphasize the evangelical aspect of the missions, this group did not exclude those of another faith as participants.
Common Theme ~ Uncommon Courage
The common connection between Donna and Rob were an optimistic and pragmatic nature. There was a willingness to see and do things that are hard, but to not be stopped by complexities, internal friction in group projects, nor shy away from reality. Through the foundation of their faith, they found those few who in the community have the courage to go forward and help with their hands. Both Donna and Rob are educated people who combine their skills and faith to be the agents of change. They reach out and work with others as equals. They see the difference in our economic and social situations, but accept things as they are. If they can help, they do. There was no expectation other than to continue to help.
Faith is a precious gift. Faith is the fuel on which the volunteers and missionaries thrive. They are motivated to bring aid to the bodies and spirits of desperate people. There a thousands of people raising funds locally in their Church or community. The next time you see a sign for a communal supper or car wash, consider making a small contribution and finding out what they are doing with the funds. Both Donna and Rob emphasized the wealth and abundance that there is in the United States. We have the safety nets of many social programs and laws to protect and/or support people in need of work, housing, food or other relief. Most of us have the daily gift of fresh, clean water, quick and efficient support for health, food from a wide variety of resources including the local pantry in times of stress, elder care, etc…think of the abundance and benefit of our culture. Donna and Rob understand true need and are proud to be a part of the giving of faith, hope and love.
“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” Francis of Assisi
There are links imbedded in the story to the organizations mentioned.
The photographs were shared by Donna Pothier from her Facebook page.
The photographs from Rob Schadt were shared from http://robschadt.phanfare.com/
Written by Frances Wychorski, May 2014