For many people, the island nation of Cabo Verde is known for one thing, if it’s recognized at all: it’s a place where hurricanes form in the Atlantic Ocean.
Paul Miller was in the same boat. Even though he had traveled during his 28 years in the military, he knew nothing of the West African nation, which sits 350 miles off the coast of the continent.
All that changed when Miller met his future wife, Angela, a native of the island also known as Cape Verde. They married almost 15 years ago and for the last decade, have sent almost $10,000 a year of their own money back to Cabo Verde.
They’ve worked with the church in which she grew up—part of the Nazarene Solidarity League—to pay for young people to attend college or to help ministries with women and children.
“The need is so great,” she said.
Last year, the Spotsylvania County couple formed a nonprofit agency, “That Others May Rise,” to expand their mission into Cabo Verde. Unlike some of its neighbors on the mainland, the country is a stable democracy with little turmoil.
However, there are few natural resources on the 10 islands that make up the nation. A 2014 volcanic eruption damaged much of what little cropland there was and droughts since then have left about 17,500 families in need of food and water.
The Millers estimate it costs about $50 a month to support each family, so they started the foundation, hoping the extra money it might generate would go a long way toward keeping families fed. The foundation’s address is ThatOthersMayRise.org.
“Our dollars go a lot farther over there,” he said.
Paul Miller spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force as part of the elite Pararescue team. The special operations forces, known as PJ specialists, rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas, according to the Air Force website.
The team’s motto was “That Others May Live,” and he liked the phrase so much, he tweaked it for the couple’s nonprofit.
“I’ve gone from saving lives to trying to improve the quality of life for others,” he said.
After he retired from the Air Force in 2003, he spent another 13 years as a senior civilian with the Department of Defense. When he tore some leg muscles while playing on the small lake behind the couple’s home near Spotsylvania Courthouse, he decided to retire and pursue foundation work in fall 2016.
Angela Miller was born in Portugal and was an infant when her parents, natives of Cabo Verde, moved back to their island home. They were well-to-do by island standards, and she grew up with maids and nannies.
When she and her brothers became teenagers, the family decided to go abroad for higher education. She was 14 when the family moved to Massachusetts.
“We moved in December, and coming from a tropical island to Boston, it was a little bit of a culture shock,” she said.
‘THE BEST AMERICANS’
The first thing the family did was learn English because “that was important to us,” she said. Her mother, who’d been accustomed to having servants, took a job in a local factory to help put her children through college.
The whole family became American citizens; one brother served in the military, and Angela graduated from the University of Boston. She worked with military forces as a civilian flight attendant and earned an Air Force medal for her service.
She met Paul Miller on one of his many flights to Saudi Arabia before Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the two recall a return trip when “we talked all the way back to Germany,” he said.
The couple married, lived in Hawaii while he was assigned to Pacific Command and moved to Spotsylvania in 2006. She became a program manager, working with international students stationed at the Marine Corps University in Quantico.
She recently received officer-of-the-year honors from the U.S. Marine Corps for her work with military students. The awards ceremony was held in Pensacola.
Paul Miller is proud, beyond words, of his wife and her family, for the way they contributed to the country that became their second home.
“Your family are some of the best Americans there are,” he said.
With his military and defense background, Paul Miller is all about demonstrating end results. He doesn’t want the couple’s foundation to simply send money to Africa; he wants to bring about change in peoples’ lives.
That’s why the couple initially focused on higher education. For $1,500, they were able to cover one student’s college costs for a year.
One young man they’ve helped is Zeki, from the fishing village of Porto Mosquito, where less than 15 percent of students are able to attend high school. The Millers are sending him to college, and he returns on weekends to mentor village children.
Zeki recently did an assessment of medical needs in the community, and the Millers planned to use his findings to determine their next course of action. They’ve already helped update a small medical clinic there.
But the recent droughts have put those plans on the back burner, and the Millers continue to send food, clothes and money to help families get through the hardship.
They ship donated items in 55-gallon drums of plastic or steel so the residents can use the containers to hold water. The couple is quick to point out that all money donated to the foundation goes directly to Cabo Verde residents, with the exception of some shipping costs.
The Millers will visit the island again in the spring to see how things look.
“We don’t want to focus just on giving things,” he said. “We want to help everybody rise up together.”