Family aims to help children in Africa

Family aims to help children in Africa

CHAMPAIGN — The way Annette Donnelly sees it, all kids deserve a chance to grow up feeling special.

But, she says, "it's hard to do that if you don't feel loved."

Living thousands of miles away from impoverished, disabled and sick kids in East Africa, Donnelly hopes to give more of these children a better chance in life through the work of a nonprofit organization she and her husband, Patrick, operate called Walking with Angels.

The Donnellys, of Champaign, officially launched the charity in 2009, but its work started earlier than that, in 2002, sparked by Annette Donnelly's years of travel and work in Africa as a development consultant.

She encountered dire human needs there she couldn't turn her back on, she says.

Walking with Angels, which Annette Donnelly runs from a home office, works with grassroots community leaders who have stable, workable ideas to create better lives for those who are vulnerable and being overlooked, she says.

"There are pockets of people out there who are doing that — amazing, inspiring leaders working with these communities," she says.

Currently, the organization is working with four projects in Rwanda and Kenya.

In Rwanda, it sends operational help to Catholic sisters taking care of severely disabled children, with the sisters now in need of thousands of dollars for a fence for safety, she says.

Walking with Angels also sends funds to a cooperative of women in Rwanda, many of whom are HIV-positive, Donnelly says. The women are trying to make a life free of prostitution for themselves and their children, a number of whom are also HIV-positive.

In Kenya, the organization is sending money, mostly being used to buy food, to volunteer community health workers helping destitute and HIV-positive people living in the slums of Nairobi. It's also working with an organization to help get HIV-positive children genetic resistance testing.

The equipment is available for testing, but chemicals to run the tests are needed, Donnelly says, and without the testing kids don't get the right anti-viral medications.

Even small grants from Walking with Angels have had a big impact, Donnelly says.

With grants of $300 or less, for example, the community health workers in Kenya have implemented a transportation fund for patients at the end of their lives to allow them to die with dignity and save their families on funeral-related expenses that would have otherwise meant depriving kids of schoolbooks and supplies, and they've purchased malaria nets and bought Christmas and Easter food baskets.

The Donnellys, who are the parents of two adopted sons from Ethiopia, relocated to Champaign about two-and-a-half years ago for Patrick Donnelly's job as CEO of the American Oil Chemists' Society.

The funding for their organization comes from fund-raising and themselves, Annette Donnelly says. She is now preparing for a fund-raiser coming up, a silent auction of art and jewelry that will be held from 6-10 p.m. Aug. 23 at Indi Go Artist Co-Op, Champaign.

The work of the organization is her passion and she would welcome help from people interested in getting involved, Donnelly says.

There are people who confront human needs with apathy and their own boredom with the TV, she says. It doesn't have to be that way.

"How many times do people go home and live their lives through a glowing blue box, instead of reaching out and touching a life?" she asks.

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