Cory Barra: Founder of Building for Generations
January 15, 2010
Tell us about yourself.
I am in my 50s and have a Bachelors degree in Health Science. I am also the parent of a young man with Down Syndrome. My son’s name is Joaquin. He is the driving inspirational force behind my founding Building for Generations, along with my own passion to realize my potential to make a difference in the world for those who share my experience. My son’s father is deceased, so I am a single parent in the true sense of the word and I understand the challenges that families and persons with disabilities face. I also know the spirit that they have. My younger years, were spent being a mother, a worker in the field of physical health and fitness, and an investor in real estate remodeling during a time when their were profits to be made. Little did I know that this would lead me to a financially stable condition in my early 50’s. At that time, I became ill with a life threatening condition which I survived. Interestingly those brushes with near death, can be powerful revelators of our unlived dreams. Mine was to travel as a volunteer to a developing country, and so I did. What evolved from that was a desire to respond to the request of parents in Tanzania, to raise the money to build a special education unit for their children. This was the conception of Building for Generations, and we received our tax-exempt status the following year in November 2006.
Tell us about Building for Generations.
Building for Generations mission is to provide resources to existing projects, or build facilities that support education, particularly for persons with physical or intellectual challenges. Our first project was in Tanzania. It is a three classroom block for children with special needs and was completed in 2006. After my return there, and a meeting with the parents and teachers, we added an auditorium to the unit that serves the entire school of 1500 students. The idea for the auditorium was presented to me by the parents and teachers. Their idea was that in addition to serving the entire school, that our unit could rent it out to the community and make money for the resources that they needed. The past two years have proved this to be the case and they have been self sustaining, also sending one report that they had enough to take the children on a field trip.
Our second building project was in the area of the August 15th, 2007 earthquake in Peru. I had known that I wanted to go into Latin America but was not exactly sure where. I again traveled with a volunteer organization for 5 weeks to Peru prior to the earthquake. Two months after my return home, the 8.0 quake that lasted almost 3 minutes, struck the coast about 90 miles from Lima. When I saw the damage on the news, I knew that was where I wanted to work and proposed it to the board who were in agreement. Building for Generations has since built a resource and rehabilitation center in a rural area serving the towns of Chincha Baja and Tambo de Mora. The first phase of this project was completed June 2009 and there are currently 11 children receiving services at the center and a group of 20 seniors holding exercise classes there. The addition of two pieces of physical therapy equipment this month, will potentially provide needed services to 56 more people we identified.
What have been the most inspiring and challenging elements of your work with them?
The most challenging part of my work has been not having a full command of the Spanish language and something I intend to improve on. In many ways it has given me more compassion for those with challenges as I have struggled to express myself. Having to consciously concentrate on conversations to grasp the essence, has taught me what it must be like to be challenged with ADD or some sort of language deficit. It is easy for me to understand how the family feels, but it gave me more compassion for the child or person facing these challenges. The most inspiring part of my work has been working in a disaster area and watching a community come back to life over the course of two years. To watch a community come back bigger, better and stronger is very exciting. Also, I was very pleased that along side the Canadians and Italians who have built in this rural area, we were able to give the U.S. a presence with our project.
How has your Development Project Management Institute (DPMI) training helped you in your work?
The DPMI course was a challenging three weeks with the technology. There were moments that I felt extremely insecure in the presence of the younger generation who grew up with computers. I had to let that go, do what I could and focus on the information which was extremely valuable and life changing. I caught a bigger vision during DPMI and I am letting it take its course.
What skills and tools do you use that you learned in DPMI?
Probably the two most important exercises in DPMI were mapping core competencies which I have since done with my volunteer team. In August this year, a good friend joined our board who has consulted for other organizations. He designed a questionnaire to mine the teams talents and their personal dreams. The second would be the exercise on strategic partnering. I happened to attend a concert of Matsiko, a children’s choir from Uganda. When I was told that the founder of the organization was traveling with them, without hesitation I approached him to discuss possibilities between us. He (the founder of International Children’s Network) has since contacted me and we are in the early stages of working out a sponsorship program for children’s education in the areas where Building for Generations is working. I am sure that in the future I will have opportunities to apply all the tools.
What are you future plans?
I am passion driven, and we are a volunteer team, including myself. I feel privileged to be in this position but hope to get operating funds in the near future to bring on staff.
Our future plans (for this year) include the addition of a workshop to the resource center in Peru and exploring the possibility of building a center for a group called Abriendo Caminos in Colombia, where we recorded a music CD with some of there students. Also to explore the area of Piura, Peru where one of our volunteers was born and raised. She is passionately driven to provide services there and it appears to be a logical next step. For stories, photos, and DVD’s on our projects (along with some great music) visit the Building for Generations website.