By Isabel Laguna
Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, Nov 23 (EFE).- After a visit to Peru in which he was shocked to see children living in garbage dumps, Spaniard Antonio Gomez founded an organization that for the past 30 years has donated recycled clothing, soap and other items to more than 2 million impoverished persons worldwide.
Madre Coraje, a non-governmental organization based in the southern city of Jerez de la Frontera, celebrated a new milestone in its history on Wednesday when it loaded up its 500th container of humanitarian aid destined for vulnerable communities in Peru and Mozambique.
That NGO’s army of around 1,000 volunteers are responsible for turning the used clothing and soap dropped off in designated receptacles nationwide, as well as many other donated items, into valuable products that have helped improve the health, education and quality of life of an estimated 2.48 million people to date.
Gomez, an engineer and physicist from Segovia who formerly worked in the Cadiz shipyards, found his calling 30 years ago when he was sent to Peru with the mission of transferring welding technology to other shipbuilding facilities.
A naval engineer there took him for a drive one Sunday that opened his eyes to the harsh reality of hundreds of children aged five to 12 living in the garbage dumps of Lima.
“That sickened me, traumatized me. I got back to the hotel and starting kicking the chairs, as if it were their fault,” Gomez recalled.
As fate would have it, the person seated next to him on the flight home while he was venting his frustration was a Spanish nun who worked at a school for those same impoverished minors.
When he asked her what they needed, she started rattling off a long list of necessities: “medicine, notebooks, clothing, food … everything,” he recalled.
During the 10-hour flight, Gomez learned about all the ins and outs of organizing shipments of essential goods from Spain.
Upon arrival, he sought help from the parents’ association at his children’s school.
That summer, thanks to donations from the residents of different towns in Cadiz province, Gomez coordinated the shipment of two initial containers filled with humanitarian aid supplies.
But he said they soon realized much more needed to be done.
So Gomez and a score of friends joined forces to create Madre Coraje, an organization named after an Afro-Peruvian community leader – Maria Elena Moyano, popularly known as Madre Coraje – who was assassinated in 1992 by the Maoist-inspired Shining Path guerrilla group.
Thirty years later, Gomez’s organization now has a head office in Jerez de la Frontera and 20 other branches in different parts of Spain.
He said Madre Coraje improves the lives of the most needy through an eco-friendly approach that includes generating 80 percent of its resources from recycling, while also remaining independent, non-denominational and non-partisan.
But he said it is increasingly difficult now to find new volunteers, a reality that motivated him to write a book about the need for society to rediscover its core values and not remain indifferent to poverty and human suffering.
Madre Coraje’s volunteers, most of whom are older adults, describe the satisfaction they feel at helping to make the world a more just place.
Paco Serrano, a 72-year-old who along with his wife has been a Madre Coraje volunteer for the past 29 years, said at the warehouse where the 500th container was being prepared for shipment that as a retiree he now donates his time nearly every day.
He said his enthusiasm for the NGO has only grown since he visited Peru and saw the joy the organization brings to nursing homes, schools and other communities with their donations of basic items like soap made from recycled cooking oil.