Gilbert couple establish a nonprofit group to aid the poorest of the poor - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Gilbert couple establish a nonprofit group to aid the poorest of the poor

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Posted: Monday, February 2, 2004 6:30 am | Updated: 6:15 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Cindy Packard looked across the living room of her Gilbert home and brushed tears off her cheek.

"It's hard to sit here and talk about Africa and not cry," she said.

Packard is still affected by Africa. By Mozambique.

Visit Care for Life Web site

By the pain and poverty of one of the poorest countries of the world.

She no longer switches the channel when a commercial about starving children comes on television. She no longer asks, "What can I do?"

Nearly four years ago Packard and her husband, Blair, a businessman, founded Care For Life, a quiet humanitarian nonprofit group working in the most desperate parts of Mozambique.

With a passion to make a difference and the faith to keep going, the Packards set out to change the world one person at a time.

"Be the change you want to see in the world." — Mahatma Gandhi

"Africa: It sounds like the moon to most people, and it did for me the first time, too," Packard said. "I remember feeling bad and wishing I could do something. You know they are sick and dying and worried about tomorrow. But they are happy. They sing, they dance. It was then that I fell in love with Mozambique."

Mozambique, on Africa's eastern shore, is a country blessed with beautiful beaches, a tropical ecosystem and little else.

The statistics are overwhelming:

• 1 out of 4 children die before their fifth birthday.

• Life expectancy is 34 years; 12 percent of the population has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

• The unemployment rate is 90 percent.

• Women have a 1 in 9 chance of dying from pregnancy-related complications.

Such is life in the former Portuguese colony, where food and medical supplies are scarce, and survival is the only concern.

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." — Edmund Burke

"I had a social worker friend who went to Africa," said the 52-year-old Packard, a mother of seven. "She came back and told me about women dying from pregnancy. Being a midwife, I thought I could do something. That's how I got involved."

The first trip to Africa redefined the Packards' lives. From business associates to members of their Mormon church, the couple recruited anyone who would listen.

"I called a few key friends," Packard said. "I knew I had friends here that felt just as helpless as I did. It was completely grass-roots."

In 2000, they founded Care For Life to alleviate suffering, promote self-reliance and instill hope.

Food and water. Blankets and toys. Diapers and shoes: Care For Life addresses the most basic needs. Especially knowledge.

"We decided to teach," Packard said. "We started with volunteers teaching a basic health course. They believed sleeping with a virgin would cure AIDS, that condoms caused AIDS. We taught 30 children, which was a drop in the bucket."

Knowledge spread as those 30 children shared what they learned with other students and their families. One of those parents had a gift for the volunteers.

"He called up one of our girls and gave her a candle," Packard said. "He told her, ‘What you have brought to us is knowledge. Knowledge is like a light that will never go out. One candle can ignite another and another.' "

"You can do no great things, only small things with great love." — Mother Teresa

Matatere Tomas was a 17-year-old mechanic when he was accused of stealing a car battery.

Kidnapped and bound, Tomas was left in a warehouse, crying for help.

"Finally I realized that he was really going to kill me if I didn't shut up, so I shut my mouth," Tomas said through an interpreter.

His mother found him more than 12 hours later. The circulation in both arms was gone. Pieces of skin were falling off. Both arms had to be amputated above the elbow.

Tomas is now 23, married with two small children. Now for the first time in five years he remembers what it's like to have arms.

Brought to the United States by Care For Life, Tomas is sitting in Fikes Limb and Brace in Mesa. He moves his prosthesis and smiles. The look on his face is payment enough.

When he returns to Mozambique, his family will have a new house and he will have a part-time job, a chance at life and renewed hope.

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." — Helen Keller

Carrie Thompson knows now she wasn't prepared for Africa when she volunteered for Care For Life.

"I battled with the feeling of how can you help. How can you help this?" the 21-year-old Gilbert woman said. "I thought I would feel some guilt, but it just sunk in such a deeper level than I ever imagined."

Thompson signed up for a one-month stint in Mozambique in the summer of 2001. She brought mosquito nets and malaria pills, and took her six vaccinations with grace.

The reality was worse than she feared.

"You are immediately immersed in poverty, and it is pretty overwhelming," Thompson said. "You see women walking two miles just to gather dirty water to take home. It's the most common necessity on Earth, and it is so challenging."

Thompson taught classes and dug outhouses. She listened and she learned.

"All of sudden my perception of my world turned upside down," she said. "I never understood the word ‘need.' It doesn't feel right for me to complain that ‘I need new clothes' or that my husband ‘needs a newer car' because we have seen people in real need.

"You come home and it is hard to use the word again because I have so much. I just see how much is trivial now. I try to see with more grateful eyes."

How to make a difference

Donate: Care For Life has several specific funds that have been set up to provide milk for orphans, malaria treatments, and to allow children to enter school. Cash donations can go to these specific funds. No donation is too small: $5 can buy a mosquito net for a family, school fees for a child for a year, medicine that can save a life or a literacy manual for someone to learn to read.

Volunteer:The organization is built around volunteers, from college summer internships in Mozambique to projects here at home.

Educate:Organize a fund-raiser or project on Care For Life's behalf. The organization can assist with ideas and will visit organizations for a presentation on current projects.

Contact: Care For Life, 2905 E. Gemini St., Gilbert, AZ 85234

Phone:(888) 564-6235

E-mail: careforlife@hotmail.com

Online: www.careforlife.org

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