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Supporter Stories: A BC artist and writer uses his work to help MSF deliver lifesaving care

Theo Dombrowski is a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supporter living in Nanoose Bay, BC. Now retired, the former teacher uses his talents as an artist and writer to raise money for MSF's emergency medical work around the world. In the piece below, he explains how his efforts have brought both challenges and rewards.

By Theo Dombrowski

What does it take to make a difference in the lives of people in need around the world?  This, of course, is a question that many of us in the privileged world need to ask — and often do. That question can become heightened at the point of retirement, especially when combined with that other question: "What now?"  I feel  — as many retirees do — that my retirement should count.

For me, that means enabling others to apply the practical skills I lack.  And so when I retired, I decided to use what skills I do have to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Although there are hundreds of good organizations, I liked the energy and briskness with which MSF responds to emergencies (even when risking running afoul of sluggish bureaucracy).  I deeply admired the courage and generosity of the medical and other professionals who give their time — and take risks — in order to alleviate suffering.  I was impressed by the range and scope of the organization, the analytical depth of understanding in finding where need was greatest and response most effective.  Most of all I felt that, though development is crucial, there can be no development, or improvement in life, without health.

Important work

That was in 2006.  Since then I've faced some down periods, and some encouraging lifts.  With my background in both art and writing, I tried dozens of different ideas, and created many items to sell in order to raise funds for MSF —paintings, scenic photo cards, a children's book, posters, and on and on. 

One idea, though, worked best.  A keen beachgoer, I hit upon the idea of writing a book of "secret beaches" of central Vancouver Island.  The book was crammed with potentially useful information about not just little-known public access spots, but also trail difficulty, shade, parking and more. 

Amazingly, this book, self-published, made more than $10,000 within a few months — thanks in no small part to my wife, who marched boldly into dozens of coffee shops, doctors' offices and outdoors stores, and convinced them to sell the book without keeping any profit. I eventually landed a commercial publishing contract for two more "secret beaches" books, and, in the next years, three more.  Based on the success of these books, another publisher approached me to write two more conventional outdoors books for Vancouver Island. 

Fundraising success

By donating all the profits from my seven guide books (and from my paintings), I have thus far been able to raise about $30,000 to MSF — and hope, with my future projects, to raise more. I have recently put  three e-books on Amazon Kindle — one on retirement, (Getting the Full Scoop: When Baby Boomers Retire), and two children's books (Finding Dragons and Driggles, Sammy the Rescue Bunny). Even with tiny prices, aimed at bulk sales, these can make significant profits — all of which, in my case, have gone to MSF.

Like everyone reading this newsletter, I have wanted to help others — people who may be otherwise much like myself, but who by bad luck alone have been affected by war, famine or disease.  It has been by far the most meaningful part of my retirement that I have been able to tap into my writing and artistic skills to help the work of MSF.  I have been lucky to have had some success — but I am also determined to try to expand my efforts.

You can find out more about Theo Dombrowski’s work at theodombrowski.net.

If you would like to organize a fundraiser of your own, please visit our fundraising page, where you will find a wealth of resources to help you in your efforts. For more information, or if you would like to discuss your fundraising idea with us, contact our Donor Relations team at 1-800-982-7903 or email us at donorrelations@msf.ca.

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