Williamsport native Donna Tabor — who has lived in Granada, Nicaragua and Pittsburgh — receives tonight one of the first National Awards for Citizen Diplomacy from the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy. She will accept the honor during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
In an e-mail interview with the Sun-Gazette from Granada, when asked what the award means to her, Tabor said she is “much more interested in what the award means to so many people.”
In Nicaragua, she helps maintain an animal clinic, mainly to spay and neuter street dogs and wild cats, and aids two barrio schools with their efforts to help children who have been truant or never attended public schools. Through her work, she also helped bring the joy of reading to Nicaraguan children through a community lending library and a reading-in-the-schools program.
Her two hands helped with the country’s rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
But, that’s only a small sampling of all that Tabor has done, with the help of others who share her passion.
“Those who make up our committed group, Building New Hope, the many volunteers from all over the world who worked side by side with us here in Nicaragua, and the hundreds of friends who have supported us with their contributions to our work ... believe me when I say that this award is for all of them,” Tabor said. “Each one is a true citizen diplomat, some for the U.S., many for other countries.”
U.S. citizens were nominated for the award based on accomplishments and activities that have increased mutual understanding, strengthened ties, promoted international cooperation and developed peaceful relations between people of the United States and other countries.
Other volunteers from Building New Hope; her daughter Cyndy; brother John and sister-in-law Marilyn Incitti; and nieces Lisa and Lori, of Montoursville, are planning to attend the awards ceremony in D.C., Tabor said.
“And, the woman, who, unbeknown to me, nominated me for this award, Dr. Terry Kane, of Cincinnati, Ohio, who is a veterinarian and does volunteer work in developing countries,” Tabor noted, also will be there.
The awards ceremony is in conjunction with the 2008 National Summit on Citizen Diplomacy, which is co-sponsored by the Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy and the U.S. Center. In addition to the award and national recognition, a $5,000 cash donation will be awarded on behalf of each honoree to a non-profit organization of his or her choice.
Tabor was born and raised in Williamsport and graduated from Williamsport Senior High in 1958. She attended Pennsylvania State University, School of Liberal Arts, with an emphasis on English and journalism.
After moving to Pittsburgh, she became involved with a group of friends who planned to go to El Salvador to assist a community of returned refugees who were starting a grassroots community.
“We built cement block houses, then a solar-powered water system,” Tabor said. “This small group organized itself to continue its work and called itself Building New Hope.”
Tabor said she joined the Peace Corps in 1996 and was assigned to serve in Nicaragua.
“Instead of returning after two years, which is usual for (Peace Corps) volunteers, I stayed to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch that devastated most of this country,” she said. “And I’m still here, as a volunteer for Building New Hope.”
Building New Hope is a volunteer driven organization based in Pittsburgh and Nicaragua that has been supporting grassroots development projects in Central America since 1992, according to its Web site.
In Nicaragua, along with her work at the animal clinic, barrio schools and the library, Tabor said she’s been involved with Cafe Chavalos, a culinary training restaurant for high-risk boys who were once living on the streets, using drugs or truant from school.
“They now have gotten their lives turned around and are learning small business practices, cooking, restaurant service and public relations. Once a small hole-in-the-wall cafe, it has grown into a large restaurant that serves tour groups and international visitors excellent meals that have earned them much acclaim,” Tabor said.
Bringing New Hope also supports a small coffee cooperative in the northern Nicaraguan mountains and markets their organic, shade-grown coffee in the U.S., Tabor said.
“We also pay the farmers a higher-than-fair-trade price for their beans, which helps to elevate their standard of living, which is drastically poor for coffee farmers,” she said.
Though appreciative of the award, Tabor said the most rewarding thing for her are the memories of times when her work made a positive difference in someone’s life.
“There are too many rewards and good memories to single out one thing. But, managing to get free medical care in U.S. hospitals for (Nicaraguan) children who would have otherwise died are times that will stay with me forever,” Tabor said.
“One 4-year-old girl had a missing aorta constructed in her heart at Cleveland Clinic. It saved her life. Another child had a pig’s valve implanted in his heart at Mayo Clinic. I was able to arrange these surgeries, home stays, international flights all by Internet.”
Though her work has touched so many, Tabor said there are still more in need and, therefore, her job is not done.
“Truly, I have no plans to leave Nicaragua, though I often get the travel bug and want to experience other countries and cultures. This comes from meeting so many travelers who have strolled the world and talk about their great experiences. I would love to do that,” Tabor said.
“But I know me ... I’d just get hooked somewhere else and want to settle in and get to work.”
Donna Tabor stands with
5-year-old Jesus Mayorga, a Nicaraguan boy who she took to a Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for life-saving cardiac surgery.