Charmaine Cohen-Johnson, Ph.D. has a calling.
And, as a Rochester City School District teacher, and president of the local chapter of The Western New York Conference Women’s Missionary Society, Cohen-Johnson said she decided it was time to think outside the box.
As a result, she and four other members of the WNY missionary society decided that, instead of simply mailing the food and supplies they’d received as donations to their Christian ministry for the residents of a small village in Haiti via airmail, they’d hand-deliver the goods themselves.
The missionaries also decided to raise funds to help Haitian children in need pay to register for school.
“At our end of the year conference last May, we asked each missionary to bring in a bag of rice and beans so that we could ship it over,” she stated. “The Links of Niagara Falls chapter collaborated with us, and provided a ton of rice and beans. Then, I had the idea, so I said, ‘Let’s go deliver it ourselves, instead of just sending it.’ And, in addition to that, we wanted to register children for school over there. What people may or may not know is that, their public schools, you still have to pay for. It’s not like we have here in the U.S., and parents sometimes cannot send their kids to school, because they cannot pay for the registration.”
So, Cohen-Johnson, and four additional members from the Buffalo, and Kingston, New York chapters of the missionary society embarked on a three-day trip to the village of Limonade, Aug. 24, with 150 bags of rice and beans in tow, and $1125 on hand to register the village’s kids for school.
Both the missionaries and their gifts were well-received.
Cohen-Johnson said the group raised enough money to register about 50 of the village’s children for school, and, somehow, they ultimately managed to stretch their funds to register an additional 14 more.
And, although the group is currently $700 in debt for the amount of funds they needed to cover the school registrations; according to Cohen-Johnson, the opportunity to interact with the children and families in Haiti, and to see the immediate impact of their efforts, was well worth the shortcoming.
She also said she now has a deeper appreciation for the privileges citizens have in the US.
“When we did go, we did not stay at a resort,” Cohen-Johnson stated. “We stayed in the village, so we were amongst the villagers, and we had an opportunity to stand by them, touch, and feel, and see them, and it kind of helped us to be more appreciative of what we have here in the U.S. We’re able to go to free public schools; we have more job opportunities. There’s more support here. The people down in Haiti, they’re very poor, and they live very meagerly. And, they seemed to have been very grateful for the little that we were able to bring over. It showed me how many of them are content, although they don’t have as much. They were content with that they had.”
Cohen-Johnson said she and the other missionaries are also currently in the early stages of scouting land near the village they visited, in an effort to begin figuring out how to build and fund their own school in Haiti, so the kids won’t have to continue to pay for their classes.
“It’s still in the early stages, so that’s something that’s on the horizon,” she stated. “I think, after things get a bit more settled after the devastation they just experienced, I think we need to get those things settled first, then start thinking about the first steps.”
In the meantime, Cohen-Johnson said individuals who’d like to help with Haiti’s relief efforts can contact the missionary society at www.wnycwms.org.
WNY CWMS also has additional outreach efforts designed to combat domestic violence against women, and programs to help each missionary society’s respective locale prepare for national disasters, she stated.
“We also do social action work at the conference level, too,” Cohen-Johnson said. “One of our conference actions’ focus is a domestic violence initiative called HOPE Enterprise, which stands for Helping Others Promoting Excellence. That’s a program where we’re trying to provide workshops for women who have experienced domestic violence, and to kind of provide them with self-esteem building, and value-building, in those workshops. That’s mostly done in the Schenectady area, where we have a partnership with the YWCA.”
As for Cohen-Johnson’s personal plans, she said she hopes to continue her outreach efforts with the missionary society, and; one day, she hopes to become the superintendent of a small school district, now that she’s completed her doctorate.
“I believe I have leadership skills that can bring a team together, working toward the good, or working toward the goal,” she stated. “I believe I have that strength. I have experience at the elementary level, and at the high school level. I also have experience in adult education. And, I’m a parent myself, so I also understand what it feels like to be on both sides. So, I think having these experiences would help me serve as a superb superintendent.”
The WNY Conference Women’s Missionary Society is a division of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Cohen-Johnson’s chapter is a division of Baber AME church, which is located at 550 Meigs St.
Visit http://baberrochester.org/ for additional information regarding Baber AME.