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65 Countries and Counting! 07/04

Concord Rotarian, Extraordinary Humanitarian to 65 Countries and Counting

David King.


As he daily walks his rescued Tibetan terrier through the neighborhood of east Concord, few people if any would know the short grey-haired man with an impish smile, is a published writer and author, and has an unusual history.

Michael Barrington was born in Manchester England, and at age thirteen went to boarding school in the Lake District, (“not a fun Harry Potter place” he remarks,) but a boys’ only strict, spartan, physically and intellectually demanding environment. “We had 6:00 AM cross country runs, only cold water for washing and classes six days a week.” After graduation I joined a French religious Order of missionary priests and was assigned to Nigeria where I landed at the start of a civil war. Stood up to be shot by a group of drunken soldiers, my ability to speak the local language saved my life. Poor demobilization systems and lack of disarmament led to soldiers taking their weapons home which resulted in an outbreak of armed robberies. To stem this, public executions were held in a soccer stadium which I had to attend. After ten years of living in the jungle, several bouts of malaria fever and needing to spiritually “recharge my batteries,” I took a year off and lived as hermit attached to a Trappist monastery in Northern Ireland.

Five years in Scotland as head of a Retreat & Conference Center, followed by eighteen months teaching in Spain, led him to Puerto Rico where he was assigned as rector of an international seminary for Latin American students. Periodically he struggled with my role as a priest, “it was like wearing a suit that didn’t fit, and each time I considered leaving, I got promoted.” After three years he resigned and moved to the Bay Area. Here he became a technical advisor for Rotary International he began traveling all over the world reviewing and evaluating humanitarian projects. In addition, he initiated international projects for the Rotary Club of Concord, inviting clubs from Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, and Clayton, to join participate.

With the help of Rotary and a friend they developed an orphanage for teen aged, sexually abused girls in Ethiopia and made it self-sufficient by creating an egg producing farm. All the girls are supported through four years of university. Two graduated in Business Studies and together with five others with degrees in education and psychology, they now completely run all operations.

In Burkina Faso, he worked for six years drilling water wells on the edge of the Sahara Desert and building schools. In one area where parents were refusing to have small girls enrolled, he started a goat for girls’ program. A goat is given to a family and then bred. With the sale of the young goat the family could buy the girl a uniform and essential materials. It worked well as goats are notorious for producing twins! So far more than three hundred young girls have benefited from the program.

In northern Ecuador, with Rotary funding he helped establish a cottage industry for manufacturing prosthetics and a rehabilitation clinic started. After four years and multiple site visits, it was not only functioning and successful, but was handed over to a Non-Profit organization to guarantee its sustainability.

He spent two weeks in Eastern Russia including the island of Sakhalin, the country’s most eastern limit where equipment was provided for the main hospital. In Vladivostok, an immunization program planned to give children shots for mumps, measles, and rubella became fraught with issues and delays. The Russians refused to allow the vaccine through customs since they were from a country they didn’t trade with, and it sat on the docks for months until its time limit expired. The Russians refused the use of new vaccines until they had been tested by a laboratory in Moscow. A two-year project turned into five! The plan was to use local clinics throughout the area and immunize 150,000 children. The Rotary Clubs announced it via radio and TV, and it started well, even receiving international coverage. Thirty-six hours later a cease-and-desist order came down from Moscow. The world now knew that Russia was not immunizing all its children! “I was involved in negotiating a solution. Since there were two shots, the Rotarians agreed to give one and the Russian government the other, but it would be announced publicly only as a Government Program.”

In Mexico he was instrumental in twinning the Concord club with that of Zacoalco De Tores and over a ten-year period developed many projects. The most challenging yet visually satisfying was the delivery of 1,000 wheelchairs and seeing many people, for the first time in their lives, gaining some mobility. They also obtained an ambulance and drove 3,000 miles from Concord, to donate it to the Mexican Red Cross of Coatzacualcos followed later by a 2,000 mile drive to Zacoalco de Torres with a bus for handicapped children.

65 Countries and Counting

In all Barrington estimates he has been to 65 countries and lived eight of them. In Senegal, he monitored a massive tree planting project, part of a multi nation effort to hold back the south shifting sands from the Sahara Desert; it is now 10% larger than it was one hundred years ago. “In India I spent time outside of Mumbai, reviewing an emergency housing project funded by Rotary International after the area had been levelled by a monsoon. In the Andes of Bolivia, our Rotary group built four bridges where during the rainy season whole villages were cutoff; famers couldn’t move produce to market, and there was no direct access to medical care or schools.”

Most recently, he headed a five-year, Covid-delayed project in Honduras, putting water into thirty-four schools, building new bathrooms and training almost 1,000 teachers in a new hygiene syllabus.(This is an article published in Diablo Gazette, October 2018, “Wash Project,” available at diablogazette.com)

With all the travel to third world countries, Barrington has lived in some pretty remote areas.

“I stayed with three different families living in Yurts in Mongolia and with a group of Tuaregs sharing their tents somewhere in the Sahara Desert.” In Nigeria he lived in a mud hut with a grass roof for three years and in the Andes shared a bedroom with a pen full of guinea pigs in an adobe-built house with a dirt roof.

Barrington has written eight books. “I often draw on my global experiences, expertise and having undergone acculturation eight times for much of my background material. My newest historical novel No Room for Heroes will be available in August and is about the French Resistance in World War II.”

Barrington speaks two foreign languages fluently and can converse in five. He lives in Concord with his French wife, Annie, a painter who designs the covers of his books. Generally Barrington is the author of this column in the Diablo Gazette.

This remarkable man is your neighbor.


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