WE are just one week away from beginning our long awaited trek of Mount Kilimanjaro — almost two whole years since I announced the challenge for charity, as I approached my 40th birthday.
Back in 2019, I outlined how I intended to raise #20KforKilimanJ in aid of autism. I set out raising funds for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, from whom we received our amazing assistance dog Ebbi in October, 2019, and also for Sonas Junior Special School in Carrigaline and Shine centre for autism, also in Carrigaline. Both these helped us massively with our son Bodhi and daughter Indie and who are a huge part of our village when it comes to our support network.
I put my head down and worked diligently for almost 20 months trying to raise this money, which is no easy feat doing it single handedly and during a pandemic when no-one could meet up. I was absolutely ecstatic when we raised more than €62,000 and we presented over €20,000 to all three in recent weeks.
BUT IT DIDN’T STOP THERE
While out training for the climb in early May, I recalled a conversation with a friend of mine, Donna, where I suggested that when this fundraiser was over, could we do something for missing persons, in her brother Barry Coughlan’s name.
I also wanted to fundraise for Marymount in memory of my cousin who passed in 2018.
It hit me that having raised €20,000 each for our autism charities, a feat we never even dreamed of, we now had a small window of opportunity in the run up to Kilimanjaro to help three more deserving charities. So I contacted Donna again and she and her parents nominated Cork City Missing Persons Search & Recovery and Mallow Search and Rescue (CCMPSR), which were a huge help to them throughout the years.
I then reached out to all of these organisations and got the green light within a few days and our new fundraiser was born #10KforKilimanJ.
I never get behind a charity or organisation where I don’t see first hand the difference they make. Our family spent months in Marymount and I was blown away by the work that is done there, doing all they can to fulfil their patients’ wishes while treating them with the utmost of dignity and respect.
I didn’t realise that they provide specialist and expert care to a population base of 560,000 people and they need €3.5 million each year to sustain their current services.
I quickly educated myself, learning that €25,000 can cover a car for a community palliative care nurse, €2,200 can help cover 10 community palliative home care visits, and €800 helps cover bereavement support sessions for children who have just lost a parent.
There was no two ways about it, this fundraising was crucial. So I made it my job to try and highlight it on my Out in the Sticks with Six blog.
In the meantime, Chris and Dave from CCMPSR called down to me in Fountainstown in May. They explained how they need €27,000 just to keep going each year and how they don’t even have a base to work out of. The premises they are allowed to use has no running water and the rain comes through the ceiling.
This means they have to take their gear home after each search, cannot even have a shower, and the most gut wrenching thing of them all is the fact that if they recover a person, they are forced to meet their family out on the street with no dignity or privacy. People need to remember these are all volunteers who do this.
They spoke about how they would love a premises within Cork city where they could park their two jeeps, store their gear, have access to a comfortable room where they could take a family to and be able to shower after a search, all pleas to council and politicians to date haven’t proved fruitful, even after sourcing vacant buildings themselves. My mind was in over- drive at how very wrong this all was and how to help.
In a very strange twist of fate, the following day, only five days after we set up the new fundraiser, they recovered my friend’s brother, Barry Coughlan, after 17 years of being missing. This absolutely drove home how important fundraising was — had it not been through donations they would not have had the Sonar Starfish which helped them in their search.
This vital piece of equipment cost €10,000, €3,000 of which they received through a grant.
Seeing first hand how they stood on that pier for 48 hours so as not to leave Barry on his own, with no break and in the lashing rain with nowhere to dry their gear, it really highlighted how important these people are, how little is done to support them, and what they need to continue searches for other families.
HOW WE RAISED MORE FUNDS
I asked what we could do as a family to raise funds. So my autistic son, Bodhi, aged seven, agreed to do a 5k walk dressed as a superhero to raise funds on Saturday, June 19. His conditions were he was paid in Curly Wurlys, Kinder Eggs and Chomp bars and a new superhero costume, all of which he received with thanks to Barry’s family, his biggest supporters.
Our assistance dog Ebbi helped him get to this point of being independent enough to complete this fundraiser, in order to give back to another charity, and I thank Tim and all at the IGD for allowing this to happen.
Bodhi did well until 4k, at which point he had to be carried on my back. He had a miraculous recovery, however, when he spotted a guard of honour for him from the guys at CCMPSR and our family and friends, and took off running.
50K IN ONE DAY
I then set the task of walking 100k in a day to raise more funds, 50K of which I set out to do myself on July 3. I spent a night writing out the initials and names of 100 people still missing in Ireland on a t-shirt, which I wore during the walk. I cried while holding space for each of them as I wrote each letter.
Did you know that one person is reported missing every hour of every day in Ireland? That 52 people who went missing in 2020 have still not been found?
When you talk to families of the missing, they will tell you how they are “the forgotten” and it absolutely breaks my heart.
Walking 50K in one day was one of the most physically challenging things I have ever don, this is not even required of me when doing Kilimanjaro, when we will cover over 91km in nine days.
I really struggled at 30-40K as I made the mistake of changing into the wrong shoes, my right knee went, and I almost collapsed. But every time I glimpsed down at my t-shirt, I caught a reminder of who I was doing this for. The occasional beeps of passing cars and friends and family accompanying me along the way kept me going. After 9h 46min I finally completed 50K.
It was very emotional for me, one of the highs of this campaign, after 20 months of fundraising it was my last fundraising event.
I knew that being a mother to six, four of whom are on the spectrum and all off school, I couldn’t possibly do any more in the run up to leaving them for three weeks when I climb a mountain in Africa.
We had a very frightening experience recently where Indie, aged four, non-speaking, escaped the house and made it to the beach on her own on one of the busiest days of the year.
This alone concreted the decision I made of trying to slow things down in terms of trying to do it all myself and how I needed to ask for help.
THE HIGHS AND LOWS
We have had so many highs and lows, so many obstacles and roadblocks along the way during this fundraising drive.
All the people who originally booked to do the trek with me pulled out, one by one, which made me think I had to go it alone. There was also a worldwide pandemic happening. And I also had door after door close in my face as I tried to send two pallets of educational items and 594 pairs of school shoes to underprivileged and orphaned children in Tanzania.
After three attempts, we finally completed our fundraising sky-dive in June, which we had planned to do to try and raise funds for my 19-year-old daughter to accompany me when the others couldnt travel — she stepped up.
We will be travelling with two others and meeting film-maker Frank Papushka in Tanzania, who will accompany us for the duration and document the journey which we hope to show on our return.
I have a suitcase full of educational items for a group of Maasai children who are attending a school in its infancy, they have no idea we are arriving, so I am very excited.
I also have a bag full of knitted baby cardigans made by my aunt Carmel in Blackpool for them. I will also be meeting up with incredible Tralee woman, Louise Quill, who is running Tir Na Nog Orphanage near Kilimanjaro and she will show me where they hope to build their new school.
STILL TIME TO SUPPORT
I look forward to sharing the rest of this story on our return in September. I would like to appeal to businesses or individuals who would like to help us reach our fundraising goal to please get in touch, we are currently falling short of our €30,000 target that would enable us to hand €10,000 each to these amazing people.
I am asking for help as I know all it takes is one person to read this and step up, which could mean the difference in us achieving our goal or not.
I will be one of three females doing this climb along with 54 male porters and climbers, it is imperative, as the only Irish doing this trek, that we earn every cent of the money donated.
We will be away from our family for three weeks, without any contact or coverage for nine days while we are on Kilimanjaro, we hope to reach this goal for these incredible humans who impact lives each day. Every single euro makes a huge difference to the lives of terminally ill patients, their families who have to try and cope with the loss, and the families of the missing who are fighting for their forgotten loved ones, all of whom we will be flying that flag for. www.ifundraise.ie/10KforKilimanJ