Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Marie-Annette Donaghue
Manager, North American pursuit and proposal team | Dallas, TX
Never doubt how a seemingly random event in the universe can grow into something much more meaningful.
Around Easter 2018, I noticed a social media post from a Kenyan pastor with a small orphanage. He expressed interest in buying team shirts for his roughly 60 children. My husband and I had just watched the movie about the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. I remembered how much the uniforms meant to the team, decided to ask pastor to ask how much he needed, and sent the pastor money.
In August 2018, I started a Christmas book drive for the children, with the intention of flying to Kenya to deliver the books. I put a post on RSM’s internal employee network site asking if anyone would like to contribute and/or join me on a pre-Christmas trip to meet the children. An RSM colleague was very interested and reached out to me. The connections with the pastor and this colleague were the beginning of a series of events, networking and blessings that I never imagined.
I also asked what the pastor needed. Number one was water. Rainfall is not sufficient. I reached out to a friend who is a mechanical, electrical and plumbing executive. The three of us (my colleague, friend and I) decided to see what was possible for drilling a borehole. The orphanage is a dormitory with no indoor plumbing and no reliable electricity. (A rudimentary solar panel powers a few light bulbs and the pastor’s cell phone). Nearby are outdoor toilet holes, a small kitchen without exhaust, and rainwater tanks. We funded construction of a shaded feeding pavilion across the village, purchased a smokeless stove, provided motion-activated solar lights for exterior security, and purchased a few gifts (a change of clothes and school uniforms, storybooks and soccer balls, etc.).
The first trip to Kenya (November 2018) included visits with the local water officials, solar companies and mattress firms. The priority was determining drilling requirements and paying for a hydrogeological survey.
A second trip (March 2019) included a visit with the pastor’s accountant to discuss financial accountability, with an African media consultant to discuss potential radio coverage, and with contacts at RSM Kenya. With the intent of giving video clips to a professional cinematographer for fundraising, I took a series of videos of the pastor explaining the dire need for water, what the vision is, and what difference is being made (including for children who might otherwise be subject to forced sex acts or sex trade).
Before the third trip (August 2019), another RSM colleague joined the cause and decided to fund the drilling himself ($15,000).
In the interval between the trips, the team had been busy networking with various charitable organizations and Rotarians in the U.S. and in Kenya. Activities included:
- Evaluating drilling and solar quotes, obtaining additional surveys and reports and pricing pumps and generators.
- Assessing agricultural possibilities and researching organizations that might donate rice and beans for the now 110 orphans.
- Brainstorming income opportunities (sewing, handicrafts, etc.).
- Planning for educational needs (many are years behind their same-aged peers, and require extensive tutoring) and researching scholarship assistance.
Fast forward and workers are casing a 180-meter deep borehole that is producing an estimated 6,000 liters of water an hour. Previously, the pastor was spending $126 a week (donated by a U.S.-based benefactor who built the orphanage out of their own salary three years ago) to buy tanks of water. Children received three cups of water a day total for drinking and cleaning themselves.
The needs and opportunities are still plentiful. If selected for the Pursue Your Passion program, I would like to use the $10,000 to fulfill a childhood dream of providing a fun and inspiring memory for these orphans by taking them to a national park, and to buy some items that start to build a foundation for the pastor’s self-sustainability.
As a child, I inherited a love of travel from my mom, a strong resilient woman who was an orphan in post WWII Vienna, Austria. I was captivated by safari photos in her travel magazines. Little did I know I would later work with an orphanage only a day’s drive away from national parks.
- These orphans come from destitution that is unimaginable to most. They haven’t had the opportunity to experience the beauty of their own country. Most in Mutomo are not educated and don’t work, outside of perhaps gathering and selling various items. Some might succumb to addictions, crime and worse. Most of the children, like my mother after she was orphaned, didn’t have someone to keep them safe, tell them they are loved, and help them see hope for better days.
- As the children enter the park, I pray their hearts fill with excitement. I hope they momentarily forget they are orphans and feel a spark of renewed energy.
- We found a nonprofit that will cover park entrance fees for this purpose. I would apply part of the Pursue Your Passion funds to related travel expenses. Any excess funds would be provided to the pastor for orphanage food. (The children eat rice and beans every day. Once a week, the pastor tries to afford an egg, a piece of fruit, and a meat serving each.)
- Self-sustainability. I learned the ‘train the trainer’ concept as a former Army officer. I’d like to help this pastor and his staff learn how to generate income, so they self-sustain and later help train others.
- Available power is that of a 12-volt battery. Upgrading four solar batteries and buying a new inverter meets basic power needs: better indoor lighting, laptop charging, and an educational audiovisual system for tutoring.
- The pastor’s wife is a former seamstress and could teach children how to sew (clothes, sheets, and items for selling) if I purchase four manual sewing machines.
Remaining funds would go toward a drip irrigation system and plants for a vegetable garden. I would use my non-safari days to help set up the garden.