Philanthropy – Hands Across the Water

The Work of Philanthropists in the Gables Is Not Just Limited to Our City, State or Nation. Here Are Profiles of Some of the Exemplary Work Being Done Around the World 

Coral Gables is known for philanthropy and not only for activities close to home. Many nonprofit organizations also help internationally, recognizing that what happens afar also affects us here. 

That’s the case with The International Seakeepers Society, which works with yacht owners and operators to mobilize private yachts for research and education in marine science. The group has conducted more than 200 marine missions since 2014, including trips to study Cuba’s thriving coral reefs. 

Perhaps best known among area nonprofits active abroad is Project Medishare, founded by University of Miami doctors and helping the Caribbean nation of Haiti since 1994. Project Medishare is working to develop Haiti’s first emergency-trauma hospital, a venture expected to cost more than $40 million. Also prominent: entrepreneurship accelerator Endeavor, which brings founders of high-growth business ventures into its nonprofit, global network for mentors, talent, capital, and markets. The international nonprofit opened its Endeavor Miami office in Coral Gables in 2013 as its first U.S. outpost. 

Here’s a look at several nonprofits serving the world from the Gables and from Gables institutions. Many city residents support their work. For instance, Marla Ferreira sponsors two Tanzanian children to attend school through AfriKids, a group created in 2018 by her Deering Estate neighbor. That outreach benefits her Gables family too. Says Ferreira: “We’re just overwhelmed with joy that we can help these kids.” 


Philanthropy Medicare

Bringing Healthcare to Haiti From the University of Miami 

When Haiti suffered its mega-earthquake in 2010 that left more than 200,000 people dead, the University of Miami and its non-profit Project Medishare quickly mobilized. They sent in the first and largest medical team to the country, set up a 300-bed emergency center near the airport, and treated some 30,000 patients over four months before moving their support into a local hospital. 

Now, they’re helping develop Haiti’s first emergency-trauma hospital, an initiative slated to cost at least $40 million and offer sophisticated services comparable to those at UM’s Jackson Health Center. 

Credit neurosurgeon Barth A. Green, now executive dean of global health at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, for spearheading that expansive work. Introduced to Haiti in 1990 when he joined a friend on a faith-based mission, Green fell in love with the country’s humble and grateful people, including many who “came out of the hills dressed up to see the doctor,” he says. After some collaborations there, he co-founded Project Medishare in 1994 to help meet Haiti’s vast healthcare needs. 

Since then, Project Medishare has helped train locals as health agents for pregnancy care and other primary needs; helped educate doctors, sometimes with specialty studies at UM; and mobilized assistance on repeated occasions. After last summer’s earthquake in south Haiti, for example, the group set up mobile clinics in affected areas and shipped down some 150,000 pounds of supplies and medicine, says Green. 

Indeed, UM and Project Medishare have been so active in Haiti that their work attracted Haitian-American pediatric surgeon Henri Ford, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, to leave a top post at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and become dean of UM’s Miller School in 2018. 

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Medishare helps to train locals in Haiti as health agents and nurses

“It’s great to be in a position to give back to an institution that has helped my native country unselfishly,” says Ford. “I’ve never seen another university become so engaged and deploy so many resources during the relief effort [in 2010.]” Ford had volunteered in Haiti then, witnessing Project Medishare in action. 

Green traces his passion for helping others in Haiti and worldwide to his parents, both descendants of Russian Jews and activists for social justice. His mom marched with Martin Luther King; his doctor dad helped integrate hospitals in the U.S. south. “I was raised to level the playing field,” says Green. His father always advised him: “You should treat every patient like family.” Indeed, that spirit of justice guided Green to help start the Miller School’s new Black Lives Matter Fellowship for blacks pursuing advanced work in neuroscience and neurosurgery. 

Project Medishare is open for donations in varied forms, from money to services to supplies. The artist Romero Britto, for in- stance, donated thousands of coloring books for children after the 2021 earthquake. 

The project now coordinates with Haitian nonprofit and government groups to ensure its work doesn’t conflict with or hurt local efforts but rather empowers the Hai- tian people. Green says he learned the hard way that Project Medishare’s 2010 efforts at the airport had unintended consequences. 

By not working with Haiti’s own doctors and nurses, the independent center undermined local healthcare. Now, Project Medishare focuses on partnerships and building capacity for Haitians themselves. Says Green respectfully, after 31 years in Haiti, “All they want is one thing: opportunity.” 

Reclaimed Earth

How a Coral Gables Attorney Helps Save African Wildlife 

Growing up in South Florida, Yvette Ayala never imagined that one day she’d be helping rescue a rhinoceros mom and its baby stranded on an African island. 

But there she was in Botswana last year, as crews on a Black Hawk helicopter lifted up each rhino by their feet and then flew the heavy animals across floodwaters to safety. The nonprofit group that she created in Coral Gables raised much of the funds for the rescue. 

“People think that because they’re far away, they can’t impact animals and wildlife, and they 100 percent can, by their choices and where they put their dollars and their time,” says Ayala. 

Since childhood, Ayala always felt a special bond with animals and especially rhinos, the gentle herbivores that are among the world’s largest mammals. Being practical minded, however, she focused first on her studies and became an attorney, working for years in intellectual property law in Coral Gables. Along the way, she volunteered with animal rescues in Miami-Dade, fostering scores of dogs at her home. But by her mid-30s, with her career established, Ayala yearned to help out farther afield. She’d long followed various animal rights and conservation groups on Instagram, so she decided to take a month to see some of those organizations in action and assist rhinos, elephants, and other at-risk species. 

In 2018, she traveled to South Africa, volunteered with two groups, and met with others, using her legal skills for informal due diligence. She particularly liked the Phinda Private Game Reserve that worked closely with scientists and managed cash well. Back in Florida, she formed the non-profit Reclaimed Earth to support Phinda and other groups and to organize visits to help the animals. 

A year later, she led a group of eight people on Reclaimed Earth’s first official trip. Veterinarian and Gables resident Anna Diaz-Cruz took part, thrilled with the direct contact with wildlife. The group and its guides visited two rhino orphanages and helped clear snares set on open lands. They also watched doctors “de-horn” a rhino, giving it a tranquilizer and then, shaving down its nail-like protrusion – all in an effort to keep poachers from killing rhinos to sell off their horns. 

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Yvette Ayala of Reclaimed Earth helping to save rhinos from poachers

“I love to see animals in their natural habitat and to think that people may not be able to do so in the future, it’s just so sad,” says Diaz-Cruz, referring to widespread poaching and encroachment on open lands by cities. She now serves on the board of Reclaimed Earth. 

In early 2020, the nonprofit held its first big fundraiser, attracting some 150 people. But the Covid-19 pandemic squashed plans for its annual trip to Africa. The group instead offered virtual visits, including video chats with scientists putting bands on the legs of birds to track their migration patterns. 

Then came a call in 2021 to help rescue a stranded rhino mom and baby. Within weeks, the nonprofit raised more than $50,000 to help cover most of the costs. Ayala and Diaz-Cruz also traveled at their personal expense to the Okavanga Delta to see the rhinos flown upside down to safety. “To give these animals a chance to survive, it was epic,” says Diaz-Cruz. 

Ayala hopes Reclaimed Earth can raise awareness of threats to wildlife and help conservation groups to hire more rangers, preserve more land, and boost local economies to discourage poaching, among other measures. “Every individual counts,” says Ayala. “Because if wildlife isn’t here, we can’t be here. We’re all part of the same eco-system, and it has to be balanced to work.” 


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Gables resident Laurie Evans of AfriKids is helping children get through high school

A Gables Resident Helping to Educate the Children of Africa 

It began simply enough: Two young Americans, Samantha Evans and her boyfriend Robert Moore went to volunteer-teach for the summer in a pre-school in Tanzania in East Africa in 2010. When they returned to South Florida, they gushed about the warm-hearted kids, decided to sponsor two students to attend classes, and encouraged their family and friends to support the children’s education as well. 

Twelve years later, the effort the two kicked off is sponsoring 48 children annually. It’s also helping those students’ schools and communities with food, classroom supplies, and other basics. Laurie Evans, Samantha’s mom and a Coral Gables resident, now leads the nonprofit formed to coordinate the effort, AfriKids. And since Covid-19 began, she’s started making art that she sells to raise funds for AfriKids. 

“Our goal is to have every child we sponsor make it through high school,” Evans says. Today, less than 30 percent of Tanzania’s youth enroll in secondary education, partly because of language barriers. Primary education is taught in Kiswahili and secondary education in English. Many children get little or no exposure to English in public school and can’t get free or private English help easily, says Evans. 

AfriKids pays for students to attend private schools with English curriculum to prepare them for secondary education, and that costs money. The children they sponsor come from a poor, rural area near the city of Arusha, where the primary activity is subsistence farming of corn and grasses. Some kids are orphans of parents who died from HIV-AIDS or are HIV-positive themselves, Evans says. 

To help the students from afar, AfriKids employs a local Tanzanian, Kitoi Majenja, who also works as a wildlife guide. He encourages travelers on his tours to donate to AfriKids. He also handles day-to-day logistics for the nonprofit, even arranging recently for a young boy to travel by bus with his mom to Kenya for a cornea transplant unavailable in his nation of some 60 million people. 

Evans tries to visit Tanzania regularly – Covid permitting – to check on student progress and on community needs. She had traveled to Africa for decades before, working with an aviation business. On a trip in late 2021, families of sponsored children gathered to thank her and AfriKids for buying them bulk rice, corn, sugar, oil, tea, and soap, when schools were closed and tourism halted early in the pandemic. Tears flowed. 

Supporting the 48 children costs more than $50,000 a year, including roughly $1,400 a year for each child sponsored in a boarding school and $800 for each in a day school. Funds come from some recurring sponsorships, one-time donations and sales of Evans’ “Art for AfriKids,” available through Facebook and often at a weekend market on Islamorada in the Keys. Donations also come from an AfriKids Club at Palmer Trinity School led by teacher Robert Moore, who’s now married to Samantha Evans. 

Gables resident Marla Ferreira has been sponsoring one AfriKids’ student for years and now funds a second as well. “It’s an amazing way to make a difference in the lives of these children, who come from such poverty,” says Ferreira, a retired banking executive. “You need education to break the cycle of poverty.”