Where my journey began

Firstly, I am very passionate about what I believe in. I am determined, strong willed, and stubborn beyond belief when I have a goal to achieve. Or as my father used to say, ‘Like a bull at a gate’.  I have strong Leo traits: loyalty, forgiveness, and compassion. I find it very difficult to say no to people in order to spare their disappointment. Basically, I wear my heart on my sleeve.

As a child I always wanted to grow up and work in an orphanage. As time passed, however, I took a different path; I married young and had four beautiful children (one son and three daughters). I lived in Papua New Guinea, with my husband and children, for six wonderful years, loving the country and the culture of the people. I especially enjoyed the simplicity of living.

After returning to Australia for a while, I began working as a teacher aide in a school library. I appreciated the challenge of working with children each day and getting paid for something I loved so much. My husband had taken up a position in Indonesia on a fly-in fly-out roster until he retired.

I also had the privilege of working with a wonderful mentor who is so special in my life, who encouraged me to become a teacher.  So, for approximately 70 hours a week, I worked full time and studied to achieve that dream. I loved the daily challenges of teaching and seeing each child achieve their potential. I built many wonderful working relationships with the students, their parents, and the staff. I currently still work as a teacher, but now my role is teacher-librarian –again working with books and children. My love for my work has never wavered.

the boys and me11Further down the road

My second passion is travel, and I have been very fortunate to travel extensively around this big, wide world. I first visited Kenya in 2010 to do a safari as part of a three month round-the-world trip, and I instantly fell in love with the land and the people. I also fell in love with Rwanda and was shocked by the horrific problems that the country has faced yet managed to overcome. My travel companions and I were overwhelmed with the poverty we were faced with in these countries and the depths of despair the people tackled daily.  Despite their struggles, the Kenyans always had a smile on their faces. .

I had seen poverty in many countries, and been touched by much human suffering, but Kenya affected me deep within my soul. My sister immediately said ‘We need to do something to help these children’, so we opened our wallets and hearts.
But that was just the beginning.

The path to my purpose

Back in Australia, I vowed to return to volunteer in a local village school in the June school holidays. I contacted local volunteer agencies in Kenya, but they wanted teachers for a minimum of one month. Destiny played its part and I decided that I would find an orphanage to work at myself rather than a school. I did some fundraising within my workplace and received donations from family and friends, which the orphanage was very grateful for.

I returned to the East coast of Kenya in June and volunteered at an orphanage near Ukunda and Mombasa. I also did voluntary work in the local school and was overwhelmed at the class sizes, lack of resources, and poverty within the rural villages and schools. I made many friendships that made it harder to leave Kenya the second time. Overall, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Once again I returned to Australia and a deep desire to do something for the vulnerable children kept me awake at night.  I had to go back, even if it was just to help one child. I told myself that I could sit here and do nothing, or I could sit here and do something. I kept thinking of an African proverb: it takes a whole village to raise a child. And the seed was sown.

I would start my own charity and begin fundraising to build my own orphanage. My long-term vision is for the orphanage to become self-sustainable in the future.


Reaching my destination

I am  relied on my children, family, friends, colleagues, and total strangers who helped me achieve my dream of giving children a second chance at life. It was a long road, 5 years to the day until our first children entered their secure home, but everyone who knows me can vouch for my determined nature, and knows that I thrive on the obstacles of a challenge. When the going gets tough I only need to remember the personalities and potential of each child I met at the Kenyan orphanage.

Destiny now has me on a journey where as a child I imagined I would be. Dreams don’t happen overnight, but they will happen if you believe. If you believe, if WE believe, we can achieve the extraordinary.

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Member of Rotary

Umoja Orphanage Kenya is a Project of the Sunrise Rotary Club Bundaberg 
RAWCS Project Number 51/2011-12
Umoja's founder Cathy is a member of Fitzroy Rotary Club District 9570

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