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Making a Difference

Making a Difference

To: Africa From: U.S.

By Tom Noreen

As we witness the unfolding of an event like the recent Haitian earthquake tragedy, many of us feel helpless wondering what, if anything we can do to make a difference. We are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the catastrophe and do not know where to begin. While not everyone can be at the epicenter physically helping dig out or care for the survivors, there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference. We can help with money, supplies and prayers. It is up to each of us as individuals to take the initiative and do something.

Cedar Springs High School Biology teacher Mary Fournier has taken that initiative and founded the non-profit organization, To: Africa, From: U.s. (TAFU). “Making a big world smaller with love” is the vision of her organization and its mission is to halt the cycle of poverty in developing Africa by improving education, providing clean water, sanitation and basic medical services.

What life-changing event would spark the desire to take on this mission? It all started with Mary’s refrigerator list (her version of a bucket list) of things she wanted to do such as get her masters degree, build a garage, paint the house, go to Africa, and skydive. She said she completed the first three and had the money and time to travel to Africa.

Why Africa? Mary said, “I have been sponsoring a kid in Uganda through World Vision for a number of years so thought ‘why not go there?’ I told my sister what I wanted to do and she introduced me to Father Charles, a Ugandan priest, who plays in her band. Father Charles connected me with an orphanage in Kyotera, Uganda, which primarily took care of children who had lost their parents to AIDS. I wanted to connect and establish relationships with the people,” she explained.

That is all it took to get Mary to travel alone almost half way around the world and have the courage to show up as an unknown visitor in a small Ugandan village. There she was able to see first hand what the needs were. Mary said, “This is the best thing I have ever done in my life!”

She came back with a large list of projects and materials that were needed. The people knew what needed to be done but just did not have the resources to do it. They needed access to clean water and books in the school, additional dorm space in the orphanage, and the teachers and medical personnel needed more training.

I asked her why she did not work through an existing non-profit. Mary said, “I looked into doing that but I made a connection with these people. If I went to another foundation, they may not help this village. I know what they need and if I started my old organization I control where the money would go.”

Since this summer, she has established TAFU and been able to garner the funds to build one elevated cistern water tank to hold rainwater runoff, provide funds to finish a dorm for the orphanage, set up a basic computer lab in a secondary school plus provide a primary school with new playground, sports equipment, and new tables and chairs.

Her inspiration has led a young cancer survivor to donate his “Make a Wish” money to drill a much needed well for the village. She personally sponsors a couple of students in their quest for a post secondary education.

She said there are still plenty of needs. For starters, the medical clinic and orphanage need beds, two more water towers are needed, students need tuition for school, the schools need textbooks, and funds, which would allow Sister Christine from the medical center to complete her medical training.

Unfortunately, Mary did not connect with the child she supports. It was not for a lack of trying but because the mail was too slow. “I am going back for four weeks this year and will try to make contact again,” she said. She is looking for volunteers to travel with her in hopes that they too will be bitten by the desire to serve.

If you are interested in finding out more about TAFU or would like to help in any way, you can contact Mary at 616-644-0483 or at 2africafromus@gmail.com. She is in the process of launching the web site http://2africafromus.com/custom/index.html. Her postal address is To: Africa From: U.s., PO Box 327, Cedar Springs, MI 49319. All donations are tax deductible.

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