Two Canadian Donors Living Their Values
Jeff, Robin and son Troy
Saúl Lopez Central de Abastos Library
The first time Robin Cardozo and Jeff Richardson visited Oaxaca 30 years ago, they recognized it as a place they wanted to come back to. And they did, returning for holidays through their working lives, and for longer stretches over the winter months after retirement. Oaxaca offers visitors so much: a beautiful climate, kind people, rich cultural experiences. Like many visitors and members of the expat community, Robin and Jeff developed a bond with Oaxaca and its people.
As Canadians who recognize their relative privilege, Jeff and Robin wanted to give something back to their adopted community. At an NGO fair they learned about CANFRO and its associated projects, run for, and by, local residents. It was a model that made sense to them, and before long they were donors and volunteers. Jeff took a three-year turn on the CANFRO board and continues to lend communications support for CANFRO’s partner agency, Libros para Pueblos. Both are enthusiastic champions of CANFRO’s ongoing work.
Involvement with CANFRO means their links to Oaxaca include more than just “sun and food,” as Robin puts it. “It’s important for Jeff and me to feel that we’re contributing in some way to the community. Coming here for so many years, we’ve seen a lot of changes, and a lot of the changes are encouraging.” He describes a growing number of middle class and professional jobs, but notes that “for many parts of the population, particularly the Indigenous population in outlying areas, it’s hugely challenging to get a proper education and to get jobs. I think the portfolio of CANFRO programs really speaks to that.”
“Selfishly,” Jeff says, “we get to meet some amazing people who we wouldn’t meet if we were just hanging out like tourists here. Each of these organizations are headed and run by dynamic, interesting, dedicated people.” They relish the interactions they’re able to have, and the glimpses they get into aspects of Oaxacan life. One example: they took part in a donor lunch for the Education Project for Girls, and talked with teens who had come in from villages around the state for their monthly training sessions. “It was so inspiring,” Robin said. “For some of those girls it’s a very long trip to get to the city…they do it a number of times because they’re so determined; they’ve got this opportunity to be engaged in more education, to get to university.”
As donors, Jeff and Robin appreciate the credibility of CANFRO’s partner agencies. Although many NGOs exist in Oaxaca, Jeff points out that it can be hard to know “how is this organization set up, how is it run, how legit is it, how much of the money is going where the money should go.” CANFRO operates with professionalism and transparency, working closely with the five local partner agencies who deliver the projects, overseen by the CANFRO coordinator under the direction of the CANFRO Board of Directors.
Robin notes that the association with CANFRO reinforces his Canadian pride. He points to the enormous legwork the founders undertook to have CANFRO become a registered charity with the Canada Revenue Agency, making it possible for Canadian donors to receive tax receipts for their CANFRO contributions. It has led to Canadians punching above their weight when it comes to contributions to some of the partner organizations.
The CANFRO project that has stolen Jeff’s and Robin’s hearts is The Book Project, offered in partnership with the organization Libros para Pueblos (LPP). Jeff and Robin co-sponsor a non-traditional library that brings books to kids at the Central de Abastos market. They’ve had the chance to see this library in action, following Saúl Lopez as he pulled a cart through the narrow market corridors, engaging children and their families by calling out trivia quiz questions through a loudspeaker, and promoting the program. As Robin explains, “Many of these kids don’t go to school, or they go to school part-time, or they go and they drop out, depending on the family situation. So, it’s very inspiring to see that this
program is engaging the kids with something they enjoy.”
Jeff and Robin were also looking forward to a visit to a village where LPP’s puppetry program would be putting on a performance. These performances often engage the whole village, reintroducing people to the local library’s offerings post-pandemic. With visits to 15 libraries planned for this year, and another 15 for next, puppetry is proving to be an effective way to spread the library message.
“For me, as a kid, having access to a library totally changed my life,” Jeff says. In his small town, his public library offered him access to the world, through books. “To hear there are so many kids in Oaxaca that don’t have access to what I just took for granted…it’s really meaningful to us that through Libros para Pueblos, they not only have access to books but they have access to the librarians who have training in reading promotion, helping them with how to read and what to read, and opening doors for them around what literacy and reading can bring.”
For Jeff and Robin CANFRO has provided an opportunity to live their values, using their resources and talents to give back to a place that has given them so much over the last 30 years, and strengthening their bond with a city they love.