John with one of his new friends at the Amani Orphanage.
“I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms,” said a somewhat downcast John McCauley when he was freshly back, with five others, from the Tanzanian orphanage he has “adopted”.
“But it was the same last time: I’ll be fine in a week or so.”
His laptop is full of pictures of youngsters from the Amani Orphanage; smiles as wide as their happy innocent faces – despite the bleakness of their surroundings, and the utter poverty which – until John’s arrival – saw them live in a building without windows; without proper toilets or showers; and without even enough beds or chairs to go around.
John misses the children – as do the five local people who volunteered to travel with him, to help do what they could to improve the lot of the 35 children – and their carers.
Those five – who like John, funded their own travel and living costs, to ensure that every cent donated went directly to the orphanage – are Ann Egerton from The Downs Bridge; Mary and Gerry Gillen from Robinstown, Laura Fogarty from Rathowen and Gerry’s friend Michael Jordan, from Roscommon.
The story though, begins three years ago, when John turned off the main road on his way to the airport to return home from a holiday photographing wildlife in Africa, and found himself arriving at the orphanage.
Shocked and heartbroken by what he found, he immediately began fundraising in Mullingar, returning to the Amani Orphanage last summer with a generous sum made up of the donations made to him after his story was covered by the Westmeath Examiner.
“The generosity of the people of Mullingar and Westmeath... I can’t put words on it,” he says.
Ann and Mary say likewise, both having received several donations before going, in Ann’s case, the donations coming also from New York, where she spends much of her time.
That initial tranche of money that came to John paid for the provision of toilets and showers; the construction of a separate dorm which allowed the girls have one space, and the boys another; the construction of a cowshed and the purchase of cows and chickens. It also paid for the provision of electric power to the orphanage, as well as for the purchase of desks and chairs for the schoolroom.
Ever since, he’s been sending out money for various improvements, and even to help the orphanage pay for food. The orphanage details for him what the work and materials will cost, and sends him photographs, as he is careful to ensure that all money donated goes to the end for which it was intended.
“The people caring for the children, and the teachers – they don’t get paid,” says John. “They’re all volunteers.”
John then had an idea on how to help make the orphanage self-sufficient: he persuaded the charity Camara to provide computers to the orphanage, so it could set up an internet cafe, which could be used, for a fee, by the surrounding villagers.
They have also purchased three milling machines, and locals bring their rice or maize with them for milling for a small fee.
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