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Paul Brifo

Morris alum Paul Brifo is helping to distribute clothes to needy people in his homeland Africa.

U alum creates foundation to assist the poor

By Philip D. Drown II

From eNews, Sptember 27, 2007

Everyone loves a good success story--especially when that story has connections to the community in which one lives.

The community of Morris has been a nurturing environment and launching pad for many innovative people over the years: entrepreneurs, artists, educators, people with political aspiration. Many within these borders, whether as students passing through or long-term citizens, have gone on to accomplish noteworthy feats. Paul Brifo, an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM), is just such a person.

In the late 1990's, Brifo decided to leave his home in Ghana, pursue an education in the United States, build a successful future for himself and his family, and then give back to the people of his home in Africa.

"I had six cousins and one brother who all went to school in Morris," says Brifo. "My brother recommended UMM and said it was a good school with hard-working students."

Brifo was 37 years old and married with one son when he arrived in 1999. Leaving his family and coming to Morris was not easy, and Brifo faced numerous challenges along the way. But, he credits the difficulties he experienced and the support he received in Morris with helping to develop his character.

In 2001, Brifo lost his uncle, who had promised him financial assistance. But, as one source dried up, local sources flourished.

"With the help of Tom McRoberts, who I was living with at the time, I applied for financial aid," says Brifo. "I also had help from my friends in Morris and my church. People would put money in an envelope and give it to me. These are the things I remember."

After graduating from UMM in 2003, Brifo got a job with Citigroup in the finance and accounting division and relocated to Arlington, Texas. Very quickly, he began giving back. In 2004, Brifo started to collect clothing from people and organizations around the state of Texas and shipped them to orphanages in rural Ghana. He has spent the better part of three years organizing and financing the work entirely from his own funds and spare time. In early 2007, he established The Paul Brifo Foundation.

"I started this foundation as a result of my desire to alleviate poverty, disease, and suffering in Africa," says Brifo. "Donated clothes to Ghana are a big financial relief to the beneficiaries because of the high cost of living. Basic necessities of life like food, shelter, and clothing are expensive."

"Donated clothes to Ghana are a big financial relief to the beneficiaries because... basic necessities of life like food, shelter, and clothing are expensive," says Brifo.

The Brifo Foundation collects unwanted clothing from people living in the United States, launders and reconditions the items, and presents them to infants, young adults, and adults in rural Africa.

"People in Africa are so appreciative to receive the clothing that we take for granted here in America," says Brifo. "Something as simple as clothing is so readily available here. I often receive donations that still have tags on them."

In 2004, Brifo shipped 200 articles of clothing to Africa. In 2006, the number quadrupled. In April of 2007 alone, Brifo shipped more than 800 items of clothing to rural Ghana. Approximately 1,200 people have benefited from Brifo's program. Currently, the foundation supplies clothing primarily to orphanages and churches. Eventually, it will reach out to schools for the blind and disabled.

For Brifo, this is just the beginning of the vision and work he has planned for the future. He intends to expand his network of contacts in the coming years and reach out to other nations.

Brifo says getting a trusted team to work with is necessary.

"Used clothes in Africa can fetch lots of money," says Brifo. "The clothes that I donate are free. Because of the high demand for used clothes in Africa, one may be tempted to sell them for cash. So I am very cautious of who I use as my contact person."

Brifo is now actively looking for grants and other forms of financial support to help continue his work. He plans to solicit more funds from corporate and non-corporate entities and write more letters to clothing manufacturers to donate factory rejects. He also hopes "to educate the residents of the United States about the economic plight of the African countries and the need for them to respond through their generous giving in kind and cash."

For more information or to learn how to contribute, visit the Paul Brifo Foundation.