Helping the World Family
Nonprofit Concern America is tackling a big job—eradicating world poverty one village at a time. And Thousand Oaks attorney Ray Stuehrmann, who sits on the organization’s Board of Directors, is watching over operations and seeing positive results firsthand.
He says some of the situations Concern America encounters are “just heartbreaking,” as people are living in unimaginable squalor and dying every day of diseases and lack of food, water and shelter. He believes its incumbent upon all of us, as global citizens, to do what we can to battle poverty on every front.
Concern America began in 1972 with the mission of “lifting the lives of disenfranchised people,” emphasizing empowerment of those they are serving to ensure ongoing progress out of poverty. Today, the organization’s programs operate in four countries on three continents. Their 15, full-time field volunteers, who each commit to a minimum of two years overseas, train and support the communities with which they work in a wide variety of ways.
To date, Concern America has positively impacted the lives of over 300,000 people across the globe and has trained more than 5,700 community members to allow sustainable growth on their own. The Concern America volunteers are often recruited from colleges, such as some Jesuit schools that emphasize humanitarian volunteer work.
“We’re not looking for young adults trying to find themselves,” Ray explains. “We want dedicated people with a passion and skill set to truly effect change. Many of our volunteers re-up after their two years and some even turn their efforts into lifelong careers.”
A Little Boost
The premise of Concern America is that a little goes a long way. Ray says, “You can’t understand the needs until you see the tremendous problems faced by these impoverished people. For example, we may find someone trying to break up rock-hard soil for planting with their bare hands or sticks. We provide tools and plows, seeds, farming guidance, and other support. Or locals may have to travel miles for water, so we’ll help them build cisterns or water preservation programs.”
Ray notes, “We want their lives to be independent with a sense of empowerment. They needn’t rely on outsiders for the long term in guiding their own futures. They just need a boost.”
Today, Concern America is focusing primarily on Central America. With El Nino upon us, the organization is working with local groups to build cisterns to catch water for future use, erect solar panels for sun-powered heating and train community members in first aid and basic health care.
In the 1980s, many of the men were lost in villages and towns throughout Central America during its civil wars, leaving the women to fend for themselves. Since then, Concern America has been helping create jobs for the local populations through the sale of native crafts, such as dolls, artistic wood carvings, housewares, handmade clothing, and other articles that are sold by the native craftspeople to the organization and resold online at its Fair Trade Crafts Marketplace at ConcernAmerica.org to help fund future projects.
Ray says some of the areas they serve are so remote the communities still only speak indigenous languages. He recalled that, in one instance, a young man wanted to help his people so badly he actually took lessons in Spanish so he could better understand the Concern America trainers and pass along his newly-gained knowledge to his village.
When asked why Concern America focuses on helping people around the world, when so many of our own citizens are in need, Ray said, “Most of us are also involved in our local communities through our churches and other organizations such as Habitat. We’re not ignoring or disregarding our own, but there are millions of people worldwide who desperately need help, as well. We are all interconnected and we have to do something to make a difference.”
He believes the immigration issues bantered about by politicians in this country would be placed in context, if we paid attention to the basic needs of people in other countries. “Particularly in our own backyard of Mexico and South America,” he says, “if we can help them improve their life circumstances in their homelands, these people would not care to venture here. They love their homes, but their grinding poverty and unstable social environment push them to seek better lives elsewhere.”
Ray began his involvement with the organization in 1977, when he volunteered to help out at a local crafts sale for his church and was attracted to the Concern America group he met at the event. In particular, he admired the grassroots approach they used in their endeavors to assess, train, and help those in need to gain ownership of their futures. As a board member of the group, Ray is charged with financial oversight and guidance, working tirelessly to stretch their funds and find more resources.
Like many nonprofits, Concern America needs funding, but it also seeks more volunteers and greater public awareness of the organization’s work in battling the world’s poverty. For more information on Concern America, call 800-CONCERN or visit ConcernAmerica.org.