Pepperdine Voice Magazine
A heart runs through it
Kimberly Cofer Aids Sustainable Progress in the Republic of Georgia.
by Audra Quinn
Georgia was just a Southern state known for peaches to Kimberly Cofer (NOO'07) before School of Public Policy professor Angela Hawken introduced her to this former Soviet country lodged between Europe and Asia.
Hawken encouraged Cofer to apply for a three-month summer internship for the United Nations Development Programme in Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi. Only a few months after learning of the country's existence, Cofer found herself departing LAX for Tbilisi International Airport to research environmental projects and help create a national park.
During her internship, Cofer's boss took her to an orphanage in the rural village of Aspindza, an impoverished area untouched by the country's economic upswing. "The children could not bathe inside the orphanage because of a lack of hot water," Cofer says. "Instead they would have to walk over a mile to a public sulfur bathhouse once a week, if they were lucky, to get clean. Harsh snowy winters made this trek a difficult one."
Upon her return to the States, Cofer immediately began raising funds to install hot, running water in that remote orphanage in Aspindza. She wanted a sustainable, eco-friendly solution, but faced some roadblocks along the way. "It's difficult to get anything done in a country like Georgia. I have learned about what it means to be a good negotiator, a respectful guest, and an efficient manager," she says, noting that she always works through a translator, as she doesn't speak the Georgian language.
Cofer raised $6,000 and after graduating from Pepperdine, returned to Georgia to oversee the installation of a solar panel system—a free and renewable resource—to give the children hot running water to shower everyday. But that's not where the story ends.
"After seeing how far so little money can go in making lives healthier and happier in Georgia, I decided I wanted to spend my time doing project after project making a difference in this beautiful and deserving country." In June 2007 Cofer started a nonprofit organization called Foundation for Progress, dedicated to alleviating poverty and conserving nature in developing nations.
All of the projects must be sustainable and eco-friendly. "My love of the nature of Georgia inspired my conservation efforts. I saw how the country was developing economically, but I also saw how environmental conservation was not being adequately addressed due to lack of governmental motivation and funding."
With all the tireless work she's putting into Foundation for Progress, one has to wonder, is Cofer's energy sustainable? "I plan over the next year to continue to build the framework necessary to make my foundation sustainable even without me here in Georgia working full-time," she says, mentioning career goals of working in international policy. "I would love to keep this foundation functioning for many years to come."
Editor's note: In early August 2008, conflict erupted between the Republic of Georgia and Russia over control of South Ossetia, a breakaway region backed by Moscow. Cofer joined a U.S. State Department convoy that transported Americans to nearby Armenia for safety. She returned to Georgia a week later and began working for the relief effort, helping children displaced by the fighting. "Things in the capital are safe and the conflict is getting better, but, it was scary for awhile," she reported via e-mail in the weeks that followed.