An emotional, yet inspirational week for Leitrim’s Rose in Chernobyl

I have just returned from what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life in Belarus with 15 of the most incredible people I know.

I have just returned from what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life in Belarus with 15 of the most incredible people I know.

The smiles and sounds of kids laughing despite their sickness, deformities and disabilities all week makes it unbearable to know that the laughing and smiling has now stopped because we are gone with no one to replace us. Thank you so much to all who donated to our fundraising efforts. Every penny will be spent on the kids trying to give them a basic comfort. €20,000 was the total raised by all the Roses. A sincere thank you to all.

It was so bad out there that they could not bring a child to a clinic two hours away for tests because they did not have the price of diesel for the van. They will probably have run out of nappies by now, the kids will be then wrapped in rags and not changed.

Adi Roche accompanied us Roses and escorts on our trip to the Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum, Belarus on Monday, February 13.

We spent our time assisting with the children, giving them some precious one to one human contact, which they are so deprived of.

Something as small as a hug brought such delight to them.

Just to give the generous people of Leitrim an insight into where their money went I have put together a diary of the week in Belarus:

Monday Feb 13:

We had quite the early start today with a 4:30am check-in at Dublin airport. We flew to Amsterdam and then to Minsk (the main city in Belarus) where we were welcomed at arrivals by Adi Roche, Marie Cox and Helen Faughan (a fellow Leitrim lady!) We got a bus from Minsk to the orphanage where the road literally ends. This was the first piece of reality for us, as the graveyard and the orphanage were the last places on the road so the children knew that this was the end, they would either live in the orphanage until they were 18 or they would end up in the graveyard across the road. When the orphans reach their 18th birthday they are then taken very cruelly from the orphanage and put in to the Adult Mental Asylum where they will not get the care and attention they received in the children’s home. On the Monday evening we were given a tour of the orphanage and shown the various rooms, however the children were asleep by the time we arrived so we had to wait until the following morning to meet them.

Tuesday Feb 14:

Valentines Day with a difference! As we were sleeping in the orphanage also, we woke up to the chatter of little voices excited to meet us. It was the most amazing feeling in the world to walk into a room full of sad faces and all we had to say was ‘Good morning’ before the place lit up and the smiles began to appear! There are 170 orphans in this particular building so it was hard to stay for a long period with any particular child. They never get cuddled or tickled or talked to for long periods so when we were there it was great to be able to put a smile on their little faces. Some of the deformities were quite extreme and we had to be very careful with the children. That evening we had to bath the children, this part of the trip was tough as we had to bath them so well as they only get bathed once a week but I think a lot of us were worried about being too rough with the children’s very delicate bodies.

Wednesday Feb 15:

We were up early to feed the children their breakfast. The nurse came in to the room with one big steel bucket of food which was fed to the children when they were lying down. We all found this quite tough to see as we could not figure out how the children could swallow their food, but what we were informed of later was that the children have their bodies trained to vomit the food up and eat it again. For this reason we wanted to feed the children so we asked the nurse could we try it, again we took a lot longer to feed the children as we sat them up and allowed them time to swallow the food, something they are not used to. The feeding times were difficult to take as we found it so hard to watch these children with extreme deformities trying their best to swallow their food. After breakfast time we went to spend time in the next Unit in the orphanage, which is just known as Unit 2. The deformities of these children were unbelievable, some who were crawling on their elbows, some whose arms and legs had to be totally strapped up to prevent them scraping their faces or kicking themselves. But what a difference a few balloons and bubbles can make, the excitement in the room was something that could bring a tear to any eye, the room was a bare room with a mattress on the middle of the floor, no toys, no paintings just four plain walls and the mattress in which the children normally have to find entertainment from.

At 1pm the Over 18’s girls house was officially opened. This building had been designed and built by Irish builders and has enough room for 12 girls, the girls are allowed stay in the orphanage because they work there. They scrub floors and wash clothes and do a huge amount of work on a daily basis all in the hopes of not being taken to the Adult Asylum. There was a concert in which we all sang for them and Teresa (Westmeath Rose) gave them a fantastic showing of her Irish dancing. We also painted their nails and did their hair to make them feel as good as possible on their big day.

Due to the big day that the girls had we were allowed organise a disco that night for all the older orphans. We all got involved in the disco dancing and our Dublin Rose Siobhéal even thought everyone how to do the famous Party Rock Anthem Shuffle!

Thursday Feb 16:

This was our last day with the orphans unfortunately. We visited the older girls house again that morning and gave them all presents (jewellery and hairpieces) and had another sing-song with them, They understood that we were leaving and it was very emotional to have to say our goodbyes. A lot of the girls could have been the same age as a lot of us and the thoughts of our lifestyle at home in comparison to theirs is mind boggling. Most of the older lads were so mentally perfect that we decided to donate our guitar that one of the escorts, Peter had brought over. Back to the younger children’s unit where it was impossible to say goodbye, the children just wanted to be hugged and cuddled and to continue getting the TLC that we had given them all week. In the next few hours there was a lot of tears shed by both Roses and orphans. It just seemed so wrong to leave them. However some of the lucky ones will be making a trip to Ireland in the Summer and we will be sure to visit them!

About 4pm that evening we left for the city of Minsk where we visited the abandoned babies unit. This unit was very hard to see as the babies were so small, and practically being kept alive solely by machines. It was an incredible eye opening experience, but hard to watch. We spent a couple of hours there but had to go then as the unit was too upsetting to stay in for much longer.

Friday Feb 17:

The time has come for us to leave Belarus, another early flight this morning and it was clear that the week had taken so much out of us.

Feeling a bit emotionally drained but very proud of all the Roses for being so incredibly brave over there. The children were my motivation and inspiration!

Thank you again to everyone who donated and sent well wishes, nothing could have prepare me for what I encountered in Belarus, but without shadow of a doubt I would go back in the morning.

Thank you to the Leitrim Rose of Tralee co-orinator Brendan Galvin who organised the whole trip. I am just very glad, I have a family to come home to.