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Alumnus aids Africa's poorest

Thursday, 10 May 2012

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At 97, Elsie Donovan is not content to have spent a lifetime helping Western Australians. She has now turned her attention to one of Africa’s poorest countries.

In the past five years, Mrs Donovan, one of ECU’s oldest alumni, has provided housing and education for over 2,000 children in Malawi orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as providing several water wells for the wider communities.

Her efforts come after a long career working as a teacher across WA after graduating in 1933 from ECU’s predecessor the West Australian College of Education.

She worked in a number of schools from Collie to Dalkeith and taught children from all walks of life. One of her fondest teaching memories occurred in Collie.

“I used to walk to the school, surrounded by children, they would run to see me as soon as I stepped off the bus, they were so eager to learn. A little bit of education and care really can go a long way,” Mrs Donovan said.

This life lesson has stuck with Mrs Donovan throughout her career and into retirement. Her involvement with Malawi began when she saw an advert in her local church paper asking for help to build wells in rural Malawian villages.

Mrs Donovan said the plight of the women really struck a chord with her.

“These women were spending their days trekking into the mountains, in one of the hottest and driest countries in the world, to get water for their families. I decided to get in touch and see what I could do to help,” she said.  

As a result of the funding she helped raise in WA, several water wells have been built in the villages, providing much needed running water and relief from the exhausting trek. As a thank you for her efforts, the villagers have named them Elsie's Water Wells.

Her work has since extended to providing shelter and education for orphaned children.

“Children in the villages were living in sheds, with no support or care,” Mrs Donovan said.

“Proper accommodation and schools have now been built. The children also have care provided by members of the local community,” Mrs Donovan said.

“Just recently I had the news that my Malawian children had produced 16 tons of food from land that the funding helped to rent and tools it provided.”

She said her work in Malawi had been very fulfilling and she considers it to be one of her greatest achievements in her life.

“One of my greatest satisfactions is that the Minister for Agriculture for Malawi brings delegations to see what can be achieved by small villages,” Mrs Donovan said.

“Many of the surrounding communities are learning from what we’ve done and adopting the approaches, one of the most gratifying aspects of this work is that it is continuing”.

In appreciation of her involvement, Mrs Donovan was presented with a trophy from the Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated in 2010.

Yet there is another achievement she still cherishes, her Victoria Square College netball team toppling the 14 year reign of a rival school.

“My team hadn’t been allowed to play in the competition, in fact they kept us out for many years, said Mrs Donovan.

“The first year we were let in we crushed them. I was so pleased, and this is still one of my greatest achievements by far!”

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