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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Bostonians Changing the World

Carlos Rodrigues makes overseas orphanages and schools safer, one nail at a time

The Stoughton carpenter says, “I realized I had a skill set that could help.”

When we recognize bad situations, “we have a responsibility to help,” Carlos Rodrigues says.

Webb Chappell

When we recognize bad situations, “we have a responsibility to help,” Carlos Rodrigues says.

ASK ANYONE who knows Carlos Rodrigues what the best thing about working with him is, and they’ll tell you it’s the 41-year-old carpenter’s humble attitude. As Rodrigues himself prefers to say, “I like the quality of my work to speak for itself.” What also speaks volumes about Rodrigues is his charitable work.

While on a church mission to Thailand in the fall of 2007, Rodrigues visited an orphanage and was surprised to see how dangerous the living conditions were. “I realized I had a skill set that could help,” Rodrigues says. He asked around for tools and, with others on the trip, spent a day shoring up rickety walls, stairs, and floors.

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It would be four years before Rodrigues again traveled overseas for charity. But during that gap, as he took his family on vacations, he couldn’t forget his experience in Thailand. “Finally, I could no longer justify not going back by telling myself that I was trying to do good work right here around Boston,” he says. “It wasn’t good enough. And I no longer felt right using my time off for leisure when so many people needed help in countries where they don’t really have options.”

Rodrigues and his wife, Michelle, decided that from then on, they’d devote their vacation time to repair missions. In July 2011, they traveled with MANNA Worldwide, a nonprofit, nondenominational religious group, to Sierra Leone. They visited two orphanages, doing a little repair and a lot of painting. “We painted until we couldn’t paint anymore,” Rodrigues says. “But we came home refreshed because it was just good work — a blessing, I guess.”

On June 28, Rodrigues and his family left Stoughton on a two-week trek to Arusha, Tanzania, and the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. He brought his own tools, with plans to visit a school and clinics. The work enriches his soul, but Rodrigues admits it also drains his bank account. Each trip has cost him between $5,000 and $7,000; sponsors have covered the rest.

“He’s providing skilled labor in poverty-stricken Third World countries on his own dime,” says Sean Sears, lead pastor of Grace Church in Stoughton, where Rodrigues and his wife are parishioners (the couple also have 16- and 20-year-old sons). “He’s not wealthy, not college educated, but passionate about making a difference in the world.” 

True to form, Rodrigues is uneasy talking too much about his work. “I really don’t feel like I’m doing anything special,” he says. “It makes some people uncomfortable to hear it. But I’m doing this for God’s glory, not mine.” That’s an attitude Sears has seen a lot since he and Rodrigues first became friends six years ago. “He doesn’t want anyone to mistake his words for bragging,” Sears says. “And that says a lot about his character, too, because most of us would be shouting it from the rooftops if we had done the things he’s done.”

The way Rodrigues sees it, he’s just “paying it forward,” since strangers once helped his family. He was born in Angola, in southern Africa, but when he was 5 his ethnically Portuguese family fled persecution, eventually arriving in Massachusetts. It was a harsh journey and he didn’t speak a word of English, yet, he says, “we settled in and made [Stoughton] home.”

“When you’re a kid, you don’t always recognize how bad your situation is,” he says. “But as adults we can recognize bad situations when we see them — and when we do, we have a responsibility to help.”

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