Aughawillan’s glamorous Rose Niamh Flanagan ditched the high heels, party dress and celebrations to spend her 21st birthday as a volunteer in a Children’s Mental Institution in Chernobyl.
In what was one of the most challenging humanitarian missions they have undertaken, 19 Roses and Escorts from the 2012 Rose of Tralee travelled with Adi Roche to Belarus on Sunday 24 March to work as volunteers in Vesnova Children’s Institution. The orphanage is situated 175 kilometres from Chernobyl, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident which caused thousands of deaths and forced more than half a million to flee from their homes in 1986.
The Institution is supported by Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (CCI).
Niamh said they took a 4am flight to Frankfort Airport and connected to Minsk before they took a four hour bus journey to the orphanage.
“We arrived at midnight and my first impressions were not great. There was an eerie silence with nothing to be seen for miles only white snow covered landscape. To tell the truth I would have liked to get back on the bus and get home to my nice warm bed!” Niamh explained.
They met some of the older children in the orphanage and Adi Roche greeted them and gave them a run down of the next few days.
“She told us some heart breaking stories, hard to hear stories about the fact that the children in this orphanage, all 170 of them ranging from 4 years up, were here to die, it was the end of the road for them.
“Our first day started at 7 o’clock in the morning when we had the opportunity to meet and feed the children. The food was dished out to them from a bucket and literally forced down their throats, not time to chew or digest. The smell of the building was terrible and hard to deal with. The children were lying in their beds, crying and screaming, the nurses really didn’t give them much attention. They were showered once a week and handled very roughly by the nurses then made to walk back the corridor, naked, wet and cold.
“We needed to brighten the children’s lives for the few days we were there so we had a party on the Monday night. We danced and sang and gave the children presents such as colouring books, pencils, toys and much more. You just would not believe the joy it brought to them, to see the smiles on their faces was so rewarding. The days flew by, we became so attached to the children and it was extremely difficult to say goodbye on our last day because we knew that once we left their lives returned to the way they were before we arrived.”
Niamh celebrated her 21st birthday in Chernobyl, she said “I am so pleased I got to spend it with these children, it made me stop to think of what I have and what I complain about, a great reality check.”
Niamh plans on returning to the orphanage next year “because it is an experience I will never forget.” She praised the work of Adi Roche as well as thanking everyone who contributed towards the €4,000 she raised locally.
“I can confirm that every cent went to good use. Instead of my suitcase being full with holiday clothes and fancy shoes, it was full with nappies, sudocream, calpol, toys, art and craft materials for the children and these were bought from the funds I got from your generosity,” Niamh told the Leitrim Observer.
Check out “2012 Roses visit Belarus Chernobyl” on YouTube and visit www.chernobyl-international.com