Cunnington uses planning, development skills to help rebuild African countries

Nov. 1, 2007

Laurie Cunnington, president of Ward Williston Oil Co. has served as an officer and director since 1987. As president of this independent oil company her responsibilities and accomplishments include overall planning and development of the firm.

However, her accomplishments in development extend far beyond Ward Williston, and far beyond the US border.

“Twenty four years ago the cover of Time magazine had a picture of a woman in Mozambique. She looked weak and desperate and totally emaciated. In her weak arms was a child that would probably die before the day was over. Mozambique was plagued with a drought, famine, and a civil war,” said Cunnington.

Several months later a friend told her about a man he met from Africa, Peter Pretorious. Pretorious was a business man who heard of the plight of the people of Mozambique. He flew into Mozambique and saw conditions that changed his life forever. When his funds ran short he was told to seek assistance in America. Cunnington met Pretorious and began to sow the seeds of change.

Pretorious formed an organization called JAM and Cunnington was involved from the start. In the beginning, Cunnington helped to supply beds for the orphanages and vehicles to move grain to feed the children.

Now JAM is a NGO with over 2,000 workers in nine countries in Southern Africa. The organization recently helped put up a food factory in Angola and helped start an orphanage in Rwanda. The organization feeds and educates over 400,000 children a day in various countries. Providing food at school encourages education not only for boys, but also for girls.

In many of these countries, girls stay home to help with the chores. Now, parents sacrifice and send them to school knowing the child will be fed. “With girls getting educated we feel we double the intellectual capital of these countries,” explained Cunnington. “We have had the privilege of working with JAM on terrible problems and then seeing firsthand the progress,” she continued.

Cunnington, president of Ward Williston Oil Co. Photo courtesy of Ward Williston Oil Co.
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Cunnington knows there is a process to rebuilding these countries. “We feel that first doing relief work provides the basic needs after a disaster. After things become stable people need education to provide sustainable growth. Then they need opportunities to improve their lives,” she said.

Opportunities International provides micro loans to people in developing countries. “I met a woman in Uganda who got a $50.00 loan to start a small business of providing eggs to her village. She now has 1,000 chickens, she sent her children to college, and her neighbors enjoy good health from their improved diet,” Cunnington said.

Fourteen years ago there was genocide in Rwanda. JAM was one of the first organizations to enter Rwanda. The organization helped build an orphanage through which over 9,000 children have passed. “Last year we visited the orphanage and it was chilling to see the children that are still there,” she said.

Today, the same thing is happening in Sudan. In February 2008, JAM will begin drilling water wells there. The goal is 50 wells; currently, 18 have been funded. It costs nearly $7,000 to $10,000 to drill wells to provide clean water for up to 1,000 people in a village.

“When you see the suffering of the world …it changes you…we have seen the suffering and we are changed. When we return from Africa we come home to our beautiful lives. I cannot forget that half the world is living on less than $2.00 a day. This challenges me. We are determined to help,” said Cunnington.

Mikaila Adams
Associate Editor – OGFJ