Backyard Hero
Giving ALL to the Cause
Living the dream of helping children

By Iris Winston and Allen Sackman

Photo by Bernard Clark
Where people have hope, they can cope." This, say Tom and Cheryl Martin, is the key to their mission for Helping Cope Through Hope, the outreach organization they founded in 2005. This retired Napanee couple, witl1 tl1e help of friends, is leaving a good — and different — footprint as they travel in Third World countries.
In Zambia this year, their footprint looked like this: Four houses, three additions and two brick latrines, 91 kids in school, 20 new businesses, 14 micro—loans, countless bags of food and clothing, 70 goats, 30 pigs, three cows and enough good will to last a lifetime. They are leaving a similar legacy in Uganda and Peru.
Both remarkably fit at 61, the Martins made their dream of Freedom 55 the launch pad for new careers of helping others. Along the way, they have gathered about 250 Canadian and American supporters who have become engaged because of the Martin's commitment. compassion and achievements. "I always thought that wl1en we finished our careers we would be doing something for humanity. to help disadvantaged people somewhere in the world." says Tom, who taught geography at Napanee District Secondary School for 30 years before taking early retirement in 2001- “I just didn’t know where." After retiring and following a stint as house parents in a home for unwed mothers in the state of Georgia in the U.S.. the couple connected with the Kids Alive International, an organization that offers “Christian care for children at risk” and spent 10 months at a chi1dren’s home (orphanage) in Lima Peru, becoming fluent in Spanish while they were there.
Today, the Martin's seemingly boundless energy powers Helping Cope Through Hope. a tiny mission organization they founded single-handedly when they decided to strike out on their own three years ago. They raised about $10,000 the first year. offering a commitment to pay their own way; virtually every dollar raised is used to help others. Each summer they raise money through donations and special events in North America but mostly in Ontario. They spend October to April in Peru. Uganda and Zambia where they live among the villagers. helping the poorest of the poor with everything from shelters to mattresses and food.
“They [the villagers] are so poor.” says Tom in one of the blizzard of e-mails he sends back to supporters. The messages read like a journal as she tells of the people helped, of the frustration of on-again. off—again electricity and of the heart-wrenching "no" to appeals for help when the money runs out. ‘Thanks to all who have given [money, medical supplies. teddy bears and clothes]. We would not be very effective.. .without you." says one e-mail that describes the delivery of 50-kilogram bags of meal to seven families and bags of rice to another 10. Another e-mail mentions buying mosquito nets and paying for a child to have an abscessed tooth removed. Another tells of church pews built by a man given carpenter tools.
“We always knew we’d spend our retirement helping other people, probably in South America and Africa.” says Tom. peering out from under his trademark baseball cap during our interview, “but we had no idea it would turn out like this."
Last year. the Martins distributed $95,000. A half—dozen friends, who made their own pilgrimages to visit the Martins in the field, brought their own cash to help. Three women, for example, paid for the construction of two new houses at about $1,200 each. Others paid for new roofs or other repairs. Tom explains that because of heavy rains. many houses need repair or have collapsed. They talk about the satisfaction their Canadian friends take away from working along side the local people. (And the pleasure they bring to the Martins when they visit.)
The visitors bring occupational skills and reflect church connections of the Martins: several are teachers: others are hospital friends of Cheryl’s from her years as a nurse in Kingston.
They help Cheryl as she dispenses medical advice. treats burns, cuts and infections and offers a sympathetic ear to women in a culture where their voices are rarely heard. The scourge of HIV is real and ever present, adding to the misery when parents or spouses sicken and die.
The number one killer among children is malaria, a disease that often goes untreated because parents cannot afford the 80-cent pills needed to eradicate it successfully. Tom notes: "These are homes where white people never visit," -homes at the end of long walks or bike rides over muddy trails far into hills and jungle. There, they observe the desperate daily struggle that has spurred them to another level in their ministry: promoting self—reliance.
“We’re doing more micro-financing now in Zambia,” says Tom. We've started in 2007 with classes for handling money before lending. Our records show more than 50 per cent of the loans have been repaid, which is pretty good. These are high—risk people, in a financial sense, because they have never had any money before.
“Say they received a loan to buy charcoal or sweet potatoes for selling in the market. They need to learn to keep the capital to replenish their stock, not spend all of the money.”
Working through a local contact, they distributed more than $l,000 this year to about 20 budding merchants selling fish, used clothing, chickens and aluminium pots, Financial help is best, the Martins say, and they are scrupulous in getting the “biggest bang for the buck.” They point out, matter—of—factly that “we can accomplish in two or three months what the big organizations can do in a year.”
, The same drive that spurs on their activities overseas permeates their activities at home as they give talks at churches, gather merchandise for auctions and community sales, and organize hymn sings or concerts with all the revenue funnelled to those in need. The couple's enthusiasm and commitment is contagious, as witnessed by the ever—growing community of support built on word-of-mouth—connections.
“It is amazing,” says Tom. So is their Work.