Alison Mae Regan—"Ali," to her family and friends—was a gifted athlete … an excellent student … and a friendly, blonde young woman with a big heart and a warm smile. After graduating from college, she devoted herself with energy and enthusiasm to her job as a teacher at a school for autistic children.
Too soon, the life of this beautiful, vibrant, caring woman was tragically cut short. Just 25 years old, she was the victim of an automobile accident, when a car driven by a man under the influence of heroin hit her car head on.
Her memory lives on around the world, however, through the efforts of her father, O.A.T. associate Ricky Regan, and Grand Circle Foundation. In 2011, he made a grant to the Foundation in her name to support the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, an orchestra in Ecuador comprised entirely of children with special needs.
Since then, the Alison Mae Regan Memorial Fund (AMRMF) has made donations to better the lives of children in Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and closer to home in Massachusetts. In choosing projects around the world, Grand Circle Foundation was a natural choice for Ricky, who has worked at O.A.T. for 20 years. He works with Foundation Vice President Jan Byrnes, who’s acutely aware of which sites are most in need—and specifically what AMRMF can do to help. “I ask where help is needed beyond supplies like pens and notebooks,” says Ricky. “And I get to be included in the whole process, including bidding and proposals, so I know exactly where funds are going.”
In 2012, Tarangire Primary School in Karatu, Tanzania, received support from AMRMF. Located on the outskirts of Tarangire National Park, the school served just 100 children from neighboring bomas (permanent villages for the once-nomadic Maasai people) when it first opened in 1973. Today, the school serves 720 students. Because the government provides just $3 per student annually—not even close to covering basic costs—the students badly needed desks. Thanks to a donation from AMRMF, the school was able to purchase 82 desks.
In 2016, when Ricky learned that Maasai Chief Lobulo—who had founded Tarangire Primary School—had opened Eluway Primary School in the same community, the choice was clear. “I had no questions,” says Ricky. “I trust him.” In a characteristic example of Chief Lobulo’s ability to engage his community, he funded the construction of the school by asking each family to contribute one cow toward the effort. He opened the school in 2012 with just 54 pupils. Today, the school serves 297 students—who shared just 122 desks between them at the beginning of 2016. Having seen the impact that new desks had on the students of Tarangire, Ricky decided to do the same for Eluway.
Most of the time, Ricky relies on photos to show him completed projects—but this past October, he had the opportunity to witness the generosity of AMRMF in action when he visited Tanzania on Safari Serengeti. He timed his visit to coincide with the installation of 70 desks, which had already been delivered to Eluway by Foundation Project Manager Sandra Vaughan and Emily Newman, O.A.T.’s Regional General Manager in East Africa. “When we got there, the desks were in a separate building,” says Ricky. “Both adults and kids from the community helped to carry them outside, where we marked them with numbers before bringing them into the classroom.”
Ricky appreciated the rare opportunity to spend time with the people who will benefit directly from an AMRMF donation. “My highlight was seeing all the children surrounding my son, Matt, and singing to him,” says Ricky.
Another project originally modeled at Tarangire Primary School—and also funded by AMRMF—was the purchase of two smokeless commercial cookers and a set of cooking pots for the school’s new cafeteria. The cookers use only three pieces of wood each day, and effectively eliminate smoke and monoxide emissions. Ricky now hopes to do the same at Eluway. “I’m working with Chief Lobulo on a school lunch program,” says Ricky. “When kids have to walk home for lunch, most don’t come back for afternoon classes. When they eat at school, they stay all day.”
While Ricky has been busy with projects in Tanzania, AMRFM has also made quite a difference here on the home front in Massachusetts. At the Higashi School in Randolph, which serves children and young adults with autism, AMRMF has honored Ali’s passion of working with autistic children by donating funds for the culinary arts classroom. The kitchen is now dedicated in Ali’s memory. AMRMF also sponsors two students per year in an apprenticeship program at Artists for Humanity, a local nonprofit that keeps kids off the street by employing them in the arts.
While the projects funded differ widely depending on the needs of the community, one common theme shines through them all: bettering the lives of children. And that’s exactly as Ali would want it.
To learn more about the Ali Mae Regan Memorial Fund, or to make a donation, click here.
Eluway Primary School is one of several you might visit with O.A.T. during Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari. You can see the work of Grand Circle Foundation at a different school in Tanzania in this video: