2015-07-02 / Community

Volunteers build homes, connections

Locals help where disasters hit
By Shreya Chattopadhyay
Special to the Acorn


HELPING HANDS—Volunteers with Conejo Compassion Coalition build homes in Mexico, at left, and Haiti, above. The volunteer group formed in 2005 to offer aid to victims of disasters in the U.S. and around the world. The coalition tries to help people who have been overlooked by other agencies. 
Photos courtesy of Conejo Compassion Coalition HELPING HANDS—Volunteers with Conejo Compassion Coalition build homes in Mexico, at left, and Haiti, above. The volunteer group formed in 2005 to offer aid to victims of disasters in the U.S. and around the world. The coalition tries to help people who have been overlooked by other agencies. Photos courtesy of Conejo Compassion Coalition When Bob Bland and his fellow Conejo Valley Homeless Shelter volunteers heard about the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in late 2004, they were determined to act.

“Most of us didn’t know what to do,” the Newbury Park resident said. “So we got together some people who we knew were interested in helping . . . and started trying to raise some money.”

After sending money to organizations such as the American Red Cross and the YMCA in Sri Lanka and other Southeast Asian countries, Bland and about 12 other volunteers decided to take a trip across the world to see how their money was being used.

“We (saw) firsthand the devastation and the result of the tsunami (in Sri Lanka),” said Bland, 77. “It was really kind of an inspirational thing, and coming back, that was one of the things that made us feel like we wanted to not stop there but keep going.

“So (we formed) this organization that ended up becoming . . . a permanent organization dedicated to relief and development around the world.”

Bland and his fellow volunteers founded the Conejo Compassion Coalition in 2005. Since then, the nonprofit has provided aid both domestically and internationally.

“When there’s a need, we look to see if there’s an opportunity for us to go in and do something different than what is being done by all the other organizations. And usually that involves having some kind of contact with people in the country who are trying to do something,” Bland said. “So, in cases where we can find that, we go in and try and help the efforts that are already going on and maybe enable them to do even more.”


HEALTHCARE—A medical clinic in Uganda was built by the Conejo Compassion Coalition in 2013. The level 3 medical facility is “one level away from a hospital,” said Charles Nangosha, a native of Uganda. 
Courtesy of Conejo Compassion Coalition HEALTHCARE—A medical clinic in Uganda was built by the Conejo Compassion Coalition in 2013. The level 3 medical facility is “one level away from a hospital,” said Charles Nangosha, a native of Uganda. Courtesy of Conejo Compassion Coalition This plan of action has been successful in aiding a multitude of efforts. Since helping in Sri Lanka, Conejo Compassion has provided aid in Texas, New Orleans, Mexico, Malawi and, more recently, Uganda and Haiti.

Rebuilding from rubble

After a magnitude 7 earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2010, Bland visited the Caribbean island. There he met a missionary who wanted to rebuild homes for people living in rural areas whose houses were destroyed in the earthquake.

“Most of the efforts (of large organizations) were being focused on the capital city of Port au Prince. And right on the outskirts of that city were people who lost everything but were being overlooked,” Bland said.

To help those in Haiti, Conejo Compassion started a pilot program and repaired eight homes in rural Haiti. Now, the organization is starting phase 2 of their relief effort in Haiti.

“The second phase involves 20 families, and those are homes that were completely destroyed, so we’re going to rebuild homes over there. And who knows what’ll come after that,” Bland said.

While working in Uganda in 2009, Conejo Compassion followed a similar approach. Uganda native Charles Nangosha, the nephew of a member of Bland’s church, wanted to build a medical clinic there.

“My aunt was working for Conejo Compassion, and Bob asked me if he could take a trip (to Uganda),” Nangosha, 43, said. “When he got there, he was moved.”

“We got together and said, let’s work together and see if we can do this,” Bland added.

Nangosha, Bland and other Conejo Compassion volunteers cleaned up an old building, bought medicine and opened a medical clinic in 2009. By 2013, the clinic had grown so much it had to be transferred to a 4,800-square-foot extension, and had become a 24-hour, level 3 medical facility.

“(Level 3) is just one level away from a hospital,” Nangosha said. “It (shows) how a small organization with few resources can impact thousands of people, but you don’t hear about it.”

New generation

Thousand Oaks resident and 8-year Conejo Compassion member Cathy Svitek said the nonprofit has put much greater emphasis on relief efforts than on spreading the word about what they do.

“Their interest has been doing work on the ground,” Svitek said of the volunteers. “They haven’t focused on publicity.”

However, as the organization approaches its 10-year anniversary this October, Svitek said, Conejo Compassion needs more volunteers from younger generations.

“We could use people who could help create a campaign online, because many of the people are of an older generation,” Svitek, 50, said. “I would love to see people of all ages becoming involved in this and contributing.”

With the help of more donors and volunteers, Bland is confi- dent that Conejo Compassion can continue to work to relieve poverty wherever it exists.

“Our organization certainly is not going to eliminate poverty around the world, but we’re going to do our piece,” Bland said.

For more information, visit www.conejocompassion.org.

Shreya Chattopadhyay can be reached at shreya237@gmail.com.

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