Vickroy: Frankfort humanitarian off to Africa
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy January 4, 2013 3:54PM
John Shattuck, of Frankfort, makes final arrangements Tuesday, January 1, 2013, for his trip to Niger, Africa the following day. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Facts about Niger
Landlocked, Sub-Saharan nation whose economy relies on subsistence crops, livestock and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits.
Official language: French
Religion: 80 percent Muslim
Population: 50 percent is under age 15
Life expectancy: 53.8 years
Gross domestic product: $11.63 billion
Update on Violet
In my Dec. 30 column, I told you about tiny Violet Sheppard, who with her twin brother, Cameron, was born 14 weeks premature at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. On Jan. 3, Violet was given the green light to head home. Betsy and Dennis Sheppard took their baby girl to her Orland Park bedroom for the first time. The celebration was bittersweet, however. The Sheppards also learned that Cameron now needs hernia surgery, delaying his homecoming for at least a few more weeks.
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:16AM
Many readers likely never have heard of Niger, a large, arid, landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa.
And with good reason. What relevance does a Third World nation halfway around the globe have to people living here in the Southland?
Lots, John Shattuck will tell you.
To begin with, Niger is important because it is a desperately poor country that recently discovered oil. It also has given refuge to Moammar Gadhafi’s son, whom Libya wants back. And it is experiencing an influx in refugees, most of them from warring African nations, including Mali and Chad, thus stressing its already tapped resources.
But the main reason Shattuck, a Frankfort businessman and humanitarian, wants people here to connect with people there is because they need each other, he says.
The people of Niger need compassion and living supplies; the people here need the satisfaction that comes from giving to those who have less.
“They’re desperate for America to take notice,” Shattuck said, while packing last week for the long, complicated journey to Niamey, Niger.
For more than a decade, Shattuck has helped collect goods and ship them to poor nations in Central America and the Caribbean.
He was the subject of a series this newspaper ran in February on Haiti and the connection many Southlanders have to that impoverished nation. Shattuck was the catalyst for getting people from Orland Park, Frankfort, Chicago Heights and Tinley Park involved in helping the poor survivors of a devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
He has motivated legions of Southland residents to donate clothes, shoes, books and bicycles. He’s asked companies and hospitals to contribute X-ray machines, hospital beds and surplus medications. He’s stopped by schools that had been closed to collect old desks and chairs. All of the items are shipped to poor areas, all are repurposed and given new life.
Along the way, Shattuck has persuaded hundreds of local residents — from teachers to housewives to business owners — to volunteer time and talent in his mission to level the international living field.
Now he has a new campaign, or will, once he returns from Niamey, where he is meeting with President Mahamadou Issoufou and his right-hand man, Moutari Kalla.
While there, he will assess the people’s needs, consider shipping routes and visit refugee camps.
For the past three years, officials in Niger have been asking Shattuck to work his magic on their country.
Shattuck’s oldest son, Joe, attended a prep high school in New York. His roommate was Oudou Kalla, Moutari Kalla’s oldest son. Today, both young men are in college and are best friends.
Meanwhile, Shattuck’s younger son, Trey, is a student at the Gow prep school. He has made friends with some of Oudou’s brothers.
Shattuck has spoken at his sons’ school about the kind of work he does for Third World countries. He told the students how sometimes his efforts benefit the nonprofit Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos and how sometimes he gets help in the form of medical aid and funding for the shipment of containers from Children of Abraham, a Munster, Ind.-based organization that sends donated hospital equipment and medical supplies to the needy around the world.
“Oudou was very much affected by those talks,” Shattuck said. He told his father about the work, and before Shattuck knew it, he was getting emails from Niger.
Even before he left Wednesday for Niger, Shattuck was collecting materials to be shipped there later. The majority of the medical supplies he has amassed has come from Chicago-area hospitals, including Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Palos Community in Palos Heights and Little Company of Mary in Evergreen Park. Other donors include Lurie Children’s Hospital and the University of Chicago Medical Center.
“We will do whatever we can do to help the people of Niger,” he said.
Not just because Niger is a very poor nation with few, if any, of the resources that First World countries have, but because Niger matters in the grand scheme of things, he said.
“This is a struggling nation,” he said. Outside forces, including al-Qaida, would love to take advantage of this and establish a foothold there.
“By helping the people of Niger take care of themselves, we are strengthening that nation,” Shattuck said. “And when we strengthen other nations that are friendly to the U.S., we strengthen the U.S.
“Everyone should care.”