Power Lunch: Roads Warrior

Tom Caramanico — engineer, transportation expert, humanitarian — ruminates on a second deck for the Schuylkill Expressway, saving the children, and Center City’s suburb

SK: Why did you care?

TC: I went to see the building they wanted to move into. It was a disaster. The staff was full of excitement but had not one clue about how to get the project done. I thought to myself, “There’s nothing I can do.” But they had asked to use our conference room to hear pitches from firms about fund-raising, and I sat in. A student — a 12-year-old — explained how he would get beaten up if he walked home from school with his books. He pleaded with the fund-raising firms, but I took his words to heart. We went ahead and moved into that building, with a capital campaign and a sizeable loan.

SK: And the Caramanico School in Cambodia? What the hell is that about?

TC: [laughing] A classic case of being unable to say no. My wife Anne and I were visiting Southeast Asia. The poverty tears at you. Anne researched the education system and found a group helping to build schools in rural Cambodia. The NGO provided half the money. So we matched it. Our school was Number 299. Now it’s the Caramanico School. We visited for the opening. I talked to one kid who told me he wants to be an “English man” — a translator. If we don’t build that school, this boy doesn’t get past sixth grade. He just wants a chance. My job challenges compare not one iota to the challenges that the kids in the inner city or rural Cambodia face. I’m just glad I don’t go to too many places. I’d be broke.