Catonsville couple finds healing in helping homeland

Foundation ships medical equipment to disabled in South Africa

  • Martin (second from left) and Audrey Peter are behind the Robert & Claire Peter Foundation. The couple collects and ships medical equipment, then distributes the items to disabled children in South Africa. With a hand from friends, including (l-r) Robert Cahill, Jr., Tito Edwards, and Jimmy Lee Harrington, they load up a 40-foot shipping container in front of their home on Friday afternoon.
Martin (second from left) and Audrey Peter are behind the Robert… (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore…)
May 16, 2010|By Rob Kasper, The Baltimore Sun

On a recent Friday afternoon, a 40-foot metal shipping container clanged down in front of the Catonsville home of Martin and Audrey Peter.

As soon as the container hit the pavement, a handful of men led by Martin Peter began filling it with medical equipment: motorized wheelchairs, walkers and assorted devices that had been stored in the Peters' home. The crew worked at a hurried pace — in just two hours, the truck that had dropped the container would return to haul it to the port of Baltimore, where it would be loaded onto a freighter bound for Durban, South Africa. The group made the deadline with about six minutes to spare.

"We try to squeeze as much as possible into the container," said Martin Peter, who, with his wife, founded a nonprofit group to help disabled children in Africa and beyond.

By now, this container-filling routine is familiar to the Peters. During the past seven years, the Robert and Claire Peter Foundation, named after their children, has shipped four containers, holding an estimated 44 tons of donated medical equipment from Baltimore to Durban and then inland to Johannesburg, their former home. Once it arrives, the charitable organization Sesego Cares distributes the equipment to needy individuals and institutions.

The idea for this undertaking stems from the couple's personal experience. While they were living in Johannesburg, both of their children were diagnosed with a rare and debilitating condition, 2-ketoadipic acidemia, and were struck with seizures and lost the ability to walk and talk. In 1991, the Peters moved to Baltimore to seek treatment for their children at Johns Hopkins and at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Their children attended the William S. Baer School for children with special needs. Claire Peter, who now lives at home, celebrated her 22nd birthday this month. Robert died in 1999, at age 14.

"After Robert passed away, we had accumulated a lot of medical equipment," Martin Peter said. "We were looking around to see if anyone needed it."

By coincidence, Audrey's sister, Valerie Sebastian, was visiting from South Africa and had heard of a disabled boy there who needed a youth-size wheelchair. So the Peters sent Robert's wheelchair to South Africa.

"The boy phoned us and said 'Thank you. You have given me back my life,' " Martin Peter recalled.

From that small beginning, the Peters have formed the nonprofit foundation, developed a partnership in Johannesburg and solicited donations of medical equipment and funding from Baltimore-area institutions and individuals.

The container shipped to South Africa this month held motorized wheelchairs, adaptive seating equipment, exercise equipment, commodes, bath chairs, walkers, crutches and school equipment such as books, tables and chairs. Martin Peter, a financial consultant, said he submits a detailed inventory to his South African partner, Sesego Cares. The organization, in turn, distributes the equipment and submits to an annual independent audit to ensure that none of the equipment is sold, he said.

The Peters accept delivery of the donated equipment at their Catonsville home, stashing it in their garage and, when that fills up, their basement. Storage is an issue.

"We would be happy if some kind soul could donate a space, a warehouse, to store the equipment," Audrey Peter said.

When they have accumulated enough equipment and have raised the $7,000 to $8,000 needed to pay for shipping, a new container plops down in front of their home. To help with the loading, Martin Peter gets a crew from the Baltimore Station, a South Baltimore facility that helps men recovering from addiction and homelessness.

Sometimes the Peters rent a truck to pick up large donations — they once received a donation of 88 hospital beds. But for small donations, a single wheelchair for instance, they ask the donor to deliver the equipment to their home. They cannot accept broken equipment.

When asked about their motives for undertaking this effort, the Peters mention the plight of disabled children in their native South Africa, and the couple's personal need for healing after the loss of their son.

"In South Africa there is a need," Martin Peter said, adding that "there is little chance of this kind of medical equipment."

"It is a lot of work," Audrey Peter, who donates funds to the foundation from her online catering operation, The House of Audrey. "But I look beyond that. It brings me joy."

"Even though a tragedy has struck our home we have an opportunity to turn it around," Martin Peter said. "Our son's passing could have been devastating, but out of the ashes this project has brought healing for us."

For information about the Claire & Robert Peter Foundation, go to or call 410- 945-2945.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.