Who we are

Communities Assist in an Australian not-for-profit organisation without political or religious affiliations. Our volunteer structure ensures that financial assistance is channelled directly to our projects.

John O’Reilly (General/Operations)OReilly

John is Communities Assist’s founder, managing general operations in Australia and Tanzania.

John is a lawyer with his own small niche firm specialising in maritime law, international transport and trade.

In 2006, he first visited Africa and became committed to the objective of assisting orphaned children and poor communities by undertaking sustainable development projects which developed new and appropriate technologies and practices for better use of water, energy and land to increase productivity and welfare.


Mike Crowley (Finance/Corporate)Crowley

Mike is a founding director of Communities Assist and manages and controls the financial operations of the organisation.

Mike is principal accounting partner for Mike Crowley & Associates since 1991 and specialises in financial advice to small/medium-sized businesses.

Mike’s accounting/business experience and associations with various other charitable and community organisations provides Communities Assist with the financial stability and transparency required to ensure its objectives are reliably achieved.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Mario Cuenca (Governance/Accountability/Risk)Cuenca

Mario is a director of Communities Assist and overseas and manages governance, accountability and risk issues of the organisation.

Mario is co-owner of Emjay Insurance Brokers which he founded in 1986 which is a boutique business providing specialist insurance products to the mining, transport, pharmaceuticals and financial sectors among others.

Mario’s experience in measuring, accounting for and covering risk is invaluable to Communities Assist’s operational requirements – ensuring that risk areas are identified, covered and addressed – implementing the types of checks and balances and business governance that would be required of any tightly run business operation.

 Contact: info@communitiesassist.org



Stephen O’Reilly (Corporate/Melbourne Fundraising)


Steve is a founding member of Communities Assist. He and his Melbourne supporters have contributed greatly to Communities Assist fundraising efforts.

Steve is a Melbourne partner of Clayton Utz Lawyers in the Construction & Major Projects & International Arbitration Groups. He is the firm’s national Managing Partner for the Property, Environment & Construction and Banking & Finance Services Departments.

Steve’s legal and management experience brings to Communities Assist a level of advice and direction that ensures a measured and stable approach to the projects we pursue.

Steve, his wife Debra and children Rachel and Callum have been to Tanzania to experience first-hand the wonderful work Communities Assist is doing. Clayton Utz is very supportive of Communities Assist’s work.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Mary Lalor (Volunteers/Staff)Lalor1

Mary is a director of Communities Assist and manages human resources, staff structure and our volunteer programme.

Mary brings to Communities Assist a wealth of experience in coaching, developing and mentoring in the human resources area. She is a people leader and manager of high volume and diverse workforce placement and operations.

Mary and her husband, Gary (with his mechanical and technical knowledge and experience), are regular visitors to Africa.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Mari Pizzinga (Architect/Building)mari 3

Mari is a director of Communities Assist and designs all building structures in Africa with sustainability and suitability directives.

Mari is principal of Beachworth Studios, a niche architectural and design company.

Mari and her husband, Rodney (co-owner of Barzura Restaurant  and the Livingroom yoga school and Yoga Travel Company in Coogee and the Dharma Shala yoga school in Bondi), are working tirelessly in Coogee with our “Kids Feeding Kids” program with local schools raising funds and awareness of Communities Assist’s work through their yoga schools and yoga travel company.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org

Catherine Morrisey (Admin/Events/Fundraising)Morrisey

As our secretary, Catherine ensures that Communities Assist runs a tight ship with organised systems for document management, marketing protocol and events management.

As a physiotherapist with her own private practice, she is familiar with all applications necessary to run a business, which is invaluable to the administrative and management facets of Communities Assist.

In January 2009, Cath and a group of friends conquered Mount Kilimanjaro and were inspired to see the progress and vision of Rainbow Ridge thanks to the support of our many donors.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Vince Dyck (Building/Gold Coast Fundraising)


Vince is a director of Communities Assist and heads our building projects with fellow director and architect Mari Pizzinga.

Vince is a self-employed carpenter from the Gold Coast who brings the necessary building experience to our organisation, particularly the introduction and teaching of new and innovative methods/practices.

Vince has worked tirelessly from the Gold Coast in running two successful golf days and exposing our work to friends and colleagues – in addition to his kids’ school, All Saints – who paid us a visit and have assisted with the collection and shipment of materials for the building of our Community Sustainability Centre at Rainbow Ridge.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Amy McNair (Social Media, Permaculture, Sustainability)Mc Nair

Amy is a director of Communities Assist and joined us after 12 months volunteering as Permaculture Project Manager at Rainbow Ridge.

During her time volunteering, Amy completed her Bachelor of Environmental Science and Sustainable Tourism Management with Southern Cross University. She liaised with Greg Knibbs of Edge 5 Permaculture in Western Australia to facilitate the progression of our Permaculture based projects. This included staff development, succession planting, chicken coop building and a food forest for the animals, among others. Amy now uses her onground experience with our social media team in Australia to bring you the latest news and information of our work in Tanzania.

Amy has made numerous trips to Africa to raise awareness of Communities Assist’s work – trekking the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and raising funds to build our newest greenhouse and methane gas supply.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org


Peter Yates (Director, Committee Assist Canada)Yates

Peter is director of Communities Assist Canada, which commenced following a visit to Moshi to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and a chance meeting with our Aussie team. His Canadian team supports Communities Assist Australia by sending funds directly to our African partner running the projects.

Born in Nairobi, Peter spent the first 11 years of his life in Africa. In 1960, Peter’s grandfather moved from Australia to Kiyungi, outside Moshi, to manage a sisal plantation at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Peter would visit his grandfather regularly as a kid.

Peter’s family moved to Canada when he was 11, but his love for Africa never subsided and his tireless work with Communities Assist reflects his dream of returning and giving back to the place of his youth.

Contact: info@communitiesassist.org

Just as integral to the success of Community Assist’s work are the contributions of our volunteers that work in our Sub-Committees.

We have 3 Sub-Committees – Operations/ Development, Marketing/Fundraising and Finance/Governance.

Why not contact us if you think you have a skill or time to offer one of our sub-committee teams and work with us to transform lives and communities!

Just as integral to the success of Communities Assist’s work are the contributions of our volunteers that work in our Sub-Committees.

We have 3 Sub-Committees – Operations/ Development, Marketing/Fundraising and Finance/Governance.

Why not contact us if you think you have a skill or time to offer one of our sub-committee teams and work with us to transform lives and communities!

Local partners

Kilimanjaro Permaculture Community (KPC): Our African partner

The Kilimajaro Permaculture Community (KPC) is a local Tanzanian community based organisation in Maili Sita which Committee Assist supports in running its Development Aid Project at Rainbow Ridge.

With local KPC director, Sarah Thomas, at the helm, and the support of KPC’s dedicated managers and staff which specialise in permaculture, welfare and childcare, Rainbow Ridge is well on the way to becoming a demonstration site of sustainability that can be replicated locally and anywhere in the world.

“As we like to say about Rainbow Ridge, “If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere.”

Contact Sarah Thomas: sarah@communitiesassist.org

Mission and objectives

Planting a tree At Committee Assist, we aim to:

  • Train and educate communities in developing countries about sustainable technologies so they can create productive and functional living environments
  • Incorporate the application of ethics and other practices, which enhance community cooperation around family and community care and support for abandoned and orphaned children.


To provide funds and expert advice to facilitate projects that:

  • Provide community education and training in sustainable technologies, such as permaculture design.
  • Create sustainable and productive living environments that maintain and restore ecosystems and communities while reducing poverty and ensuring food security, clean water and healthy soil.
  • Provide infrastructure, equipment and other items necessary for the development of education centres, pilot facilities and demonstration sites for the teaching and application of sustainable and development practices, including permaculture and other lifestyle skills.
  • Design, teach and encourage community participation in cooperative programs to develop culturally appropriate, productive and sustainable environments to ensure communities can provide for their own needs now and in the future.
  • Provide education and create awareness within the community, through workshops and other community programs, on legal and human rights issues.

Value proposition

We rely heavily on the cooperation of the local communities in which we work, as well as volunteers and experienced professionals from varied occupations in Australia.

This model ensures we maintain a strong and passionate administrative body while keeping our overheads to a minimum. Donated funds go directly where they are most needed: to the projects on the ground.

Our story

MountainIn 2006, Australian lawyer John O’Reilly established Communities Assist in order to provide shelter, food and education to orphaned kids in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

The original group of 68 children – aged from two months to 19 years – had been orphaned by AIDS or abandoned as a result of poverty. All 68 kids and some helpers were living in a cramped, dilapidated house with minimal running water, very little food, no showers and poor sanitary conditions. With no access to education, they faced an uncertain future.

John took immediate action to ensure the children had adequate shelter, care and education. He completed the building of a kitchen, plumbing, taps, sinks, showers and toilets, and rented and furnished an additional house in the nearest town so 30 children could be enrolled at the local school.

John then joined with family and friends to set up Communities Assist in Australia and Tanzania starting an orphanage of 30 kids in Moshi – Kili Kids – as a prelude to bigger dreams.

By 2008, Communities Assist had joined with respected residents from within the Maili Sita community to start its development aid work in sustainability by purchasing five acres of land in Maili Sita – aptly named Rainbow Ridge.

By the end of 2010, Communities Assist had built a small sustainable operation at Rainbow Ridge, incorporating homes, teaching facilities and landscaped areas farmed using permaculture design principles.

Put simply, with Permaculture, the natural ecological processes of plants, animals, water, weather with human needs are designed to work in tandem so that the outputs of one element become the inputs for others, avoiding waste and maximising resource use. Of course, designing a system that involves all elements which work in effective association to create a fully sustainable living environment involves significant expert knowledge and experience. This is what Greg Knibbs’ team at Edge 5 bring to this project. Greg Knibbs and Edge 5 now work on our Sustainability Development Sub-Committee teaching and mentoring our permaculture staff and the local community.

At Rainbow Ridge, we sought to achieve the following functions:

  • Operate sustainably by supplying our own water, energy and food
  • Operate as a demonstration site for successful practices in sustainability
  • Operate as a teaching location in sustainable design/practices and lifestyle skills, particularly permaculture, as well as English for staff, children and the local community.

To date, we have achieved much of the above, building homes, an office, large kitchen/storage rooms, community dining/meeting hall and teaching rooms with solar energy for power and pumping water, compost loos, methane gas for cooking, water harvesting and a gravity-fed water supply, animal shelters and free-roaming animal pens.

We practise permaculture onsite and within the community, teaching and implementing sustainability practices by using Rainbow Ridge as a demonstration site for these practices.

However, there is much to do. Our future is exciting and well planned.

While completing the different zones of our permaculture designed site and training up our permaculture staff over the next year, we aim to build a sustainability education centre. The education centre has been professionally designed utilising 4x 40ft containers shipped with donated supplies.

From this centre, we aim to provide accredited education in permaculture design and sustainability to the local community to further assist in the development of sustainable practices locally – improving productivity and economies for local families. The centre will also provide vocational programmes for Kili Kids, local children and the community in music, art, English and other lifestyle skills like carpentry, sewing, computers etc.

We expect that the increased community participation in our project together with increased family productivity, welfare and cooperation, will allow us to take the final step of our project – a foster care program with our community families to support the many further local orphaned and abandoned children that currently fall through the cracks. Our centre will serve as an after school drop in centre for these kids for extra-curricular programs/care with trained welfare staff that can monitor and assist the kids and families’ on an ongoing basis.