Robert Froom’s charity has gone beyond nonprofit. According to a local government, Froom and 4 The World have reached ambassador status.
Froom’s organization has been busy in recent months, sending doctors to Belize for clinics and being honored by local leaders in Guatemala. And the Garner resident continues to work toward sustainable, needs-based efforts to help rural communities in the two countries.
The municipal government of San Andres Peten (a sort of county-level government that presides over several villages in northern Guatemala) dubbed Froom and his organization “International Ambassador of the city of San Andres, Peten” for efforts toward promoting health and education.
“4 The World successfully assembled an ecosystem of private-sector business, academic university, local government, and our own local volunteers to deliver some life changing health and education programs internationally,” said director of strategic partnerships Patrick Imbasciani.
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4 The World has opened 10 schools in Belize and eight in Guatemala. It won a world peace prize from the North Carolina Peace Corps last January and started a student club at N.C. State that sent some students last spring. No one working for the organization draws a salary, including its founder.
Froom said the recognition from local government demonstrates the potential of nonprofits positively engaging communities and the possible partnerships that can develop. For example, First Sight Eyeglasses produces low-cost eyeglasses and an accompanying screening kit that can be deployed in low resource environments. It partnered with 4 The World in Guatemala.
“This declaration not only recognizes the validity of our past efforts, but it also represents a promise between our entities to continue to do great work for the people of Guatemala for many years to come,” Froom said.
Later this month, Froom will return to Guatemala to install computers at a new computer lab and Internet services hub, and to deliver school supplies. The 4 The World Education/Training center works like an Internet cafe and also offers training courses.
“It’s kind of going to be like a computer lab, an internet café,” Froom said. “At the same time going to be able to offer training programs for people to learn English, basic first aid and CPR, and for teachers to take courses on how to use a computer and teach computer (skills).”
The training center will be dedicated in the name of Joyce El Phillips, a Florida resident and consistent donor who made trip a with 4 The World in March. While some programming will be free, Froom said part of the idea is to generate income to help support other 4 The World efforts and increase sustainability.
Health Care 4 The World
In late September a group of doctors and medical students from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center traveled to Belize to hold medical clinics in four villages with 4 The World. Plans are in the works for another team to go next September.
Dr. Toney Welborn, family medicine clerkship director and assistant professor, led the effort to put the trip together. She said the group of seven – ranging from fourth-year medical students to residents and faculty – hoped to serve those who needed it as well as learn about Belize’s health care environment and the culture. She also wanted to figure out if the program wanted to work toward doing more with 4 The World in the future. They treated roughly 250 people, she said.
“Everyone really enjoyed the trip,” Welborn said. “Everybody loved Robert and 4 The World. Everyone says we should go back and work with them again.”
She said she had been looking for a place with reasonable travel costs, and settled on Belize because Spanish was spoken but wasn’t the only language – English is the official language. She found Froom as she looked for a non-faith-based partner to keep the trip accessible to any student regardless of religion.
She had not set up a medical clinic in a third-world country before, but has gone on mission trips in the past to Costa Rica and Thailand.
“People were very friendly and open (in Belize). A lot of time you find resistance to outsiders, and I didn’t really feel that,” Welborn said. “You just appreciate always how much you have and that’s just considered the norm.”
Ailments treated included colds, flu and scabies. One boy had cut himself with a machete doing farm work and had been stitched up at a local hospital. The wound had become so badly infected he couldn’t move his fingers. He was given antibiotics, taught how to keep the wound clean, and re-stitched. Froom said 4-5 days later the wound had improved substantially.
“We were able to help a lot of people,” Froom said.
Froom said health clinics had always been in the plan but had been pushed back because of the higher degree of difficulty. Getting government permits to practice medicine makes one end more complicated, but so did finding doctors and convincing them to come to Central America. He’s still searching for ones that will go to Guatemala, with perceived dangers scaring many away.
“Guatemala has the reputation for being dangerous,” Froom said, adding that such reputations are not built in the rural areas he serves. “The dangerous parts of Belize City, Guatemala City, we don’t go to those areas ... I’ve been going for 10 years to both countries, and I haven’t had a problem in either place.”
Froom started the charity because during his visit to help in the country after Hurricane Keith in 2000, he fell in love with the people and actively asked villagers what they needed most. Education and health care became his priorities.
The former professional motorcycle racer sold several possessions for seed money to start his charity. He later relocated to Garner from Southern California.
Even when he’s not helping, he’s helping. He said shortly after the doctors left, he came across a young girl unconscious in the road. He took her to a hospital 20 miles away, he said, but he and his translator had to perform CPR as she had stopped breathing. She resumed breathing during the ride and survived.
Welborn said she and the group appreciated the efforts at sustainability and working with the community that define 4 The World’s work. Though she intends to leave the university to move to Texas at the end of the school year, she said she hopes to set a path to expand and fund the trips through grants and later on possibly incorporate other disciplines from other parts of the university to help solve local problems.
“We would like the opportunity for any learner who wants to learn more about global health or expand their Spanish speaking skills to have the opportunity to go on a trip like this,” Welborn said.