By Kathy Kane
Ron Collard, a Trenton resident and owner of Nu Vision Realty on West Road, believes everything happens for a reason — and when God calls, he listens.
He had just remodeled his office when he ran into Mike O’Neill while working out at a local gym. O’Neill happened to be looking for furniture for a school in the Republic of Malawi in southeast Africa for his mom, Rachel O’Neill, who has been the subject of national news coverage for her “Little Dresses for Africa,” a highly successful effort to provide dresses to needy girls in Africa.
Collard immediately set out to start the process and figured out how to ship it all over there in time for her April trip. He and his wife, Debbie, never even thought of going there themselves at that time.
A few months later, he ran into Mike O’Neill and his mom at church and they invited the Collards to partake in the mission. They had always wanted to be part of the Peace Corps, and had been part of a mission to Cambodia a few years ago, but they weren’t sure how they were going to afford the $7,000 trip. Within the coming week, though, Debbie was showered with overtime and Ron sold several houses — enough to pay for the trip and they saw it as their sign to proceed.
It was a volatile time in Malawi. Right before Easter a new regime had taken hold of the government.
“It was beautiful and inspiring,” Collard said. “Malawi is like a Hawaiian island without money. The experience has taught me to be more compassionate and positive and ever thankful for all we have in the United States. They are such a happy and loving people.”
There were 11 people in the group all from different denominations and religious orientations and they visited five villages on the trip. The team worked two days in a clinic, handed out dresses with Rachel O’Neill, and fed 600 children.
Collard said not one child was pushy or intolerant of the long lines and waiting. When they handed out shoes, one little boy, though very grateful, turned around and gave them to a friend, who he said needed them more.
There was also a “two rabbit” program where they provide several families with two rabbits and as they multiply they are responsible for giving to other families for raising and food.
Even though he was told the streets were dangerous, Collard decided to take a walk by himself through the busy streets of Malawi.
“I actually brought a football with me and threw it to whoever I saw in the streets,” Collard said. “I did not find it dangerous; I found it joyous to play a game of catch with the locals. It is custom if a man in the village respects you, they will hold your hand. He was honored to win that respect several times from the village elders.
Collard found the people there very endearing and intelligent. He had one young man kick a 60-yard field goal as we were playing in the street. Ron told him he should come to the United States and play football and he said with a smile “Do you have a contract?”
On the final day of the trip something amazing happened. The furniture that was shipped last year arrived safely and was placed in the school.
“It was such an amazing experience and with the furniture arriving for us to see it being loaded into the school, was such a blessing.”