Ronan Kennedy's extraordinary story touches the heart

Leitrim and Mohill footballer recounts trip to Africa in two page special feature in this week's Leitrim Observer

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Ronan Kennedy's extraordinary story touches the heart

Ronan Kennedy's article in this week's Leitrim Observer is a remarkable story

Learning to appreciate what you have in life is not often easy but Mohill and Leitrim footballer Ronan Kennedy discovered just how precious life is earlier this year on a life-altering charity trip to Zambia.

Ronan spent part of April this year in Zambia as part of Alan Kerins Projects in association with Self-Help Africa and in a revealing and absorbing self-penned article in this week's Leitrim Observer, Ronan recounts the struggles in his own life and how the trip to Zambia has changed his outlook on life.

To give readers a taster of the article, we publish the following extract:

THE TRIP, THE PEOPLE AND THE POWER OF AFRICA

"The trip to Zambia took place at the start of April. Throughout the trip I was amazed by the strength of the Irish missionaries over there. They do immense work that goes unseen to the rest of the world.

At dinner on the first night I was told a story about a boy who had his legs run over while he slept on the road at night. The heat of the road regularly offered a warm bed for children. He was taken in by Sister Molly in Kaoma. The funds raised by these projects allowed him to get prosthetic legs and he is now training to become a teacher. The ultimate message of what can be achieved with a little help and a desire to be the best you can be.

Our visits in the capital Lusaka included the school in the Chipata Compound run by Sister Paula, and the Barefeet organisation run by Tonga. Sister Paula runs the school to a high standard and ensures the kids get what they need to help them succeed.
Barefeet perform amazing theatrical and acrobatic shows on the streets to encourage children to join and better themselves. We were mobbed by children at every turn, 4 or 5 on each arm. This continued throughout the trip.

As we moved west we visited the Garden of Oneness run by Sister Terry. She is an Indian sister who has created this magical garden of colour, meditation and relaxation. Sister Terry took us to a local community via a hedge, driving through grass above the height of the 4x4 in to a small clearing.

We found the Mahili village of mud huts and the most welcoming people I have ever encountered. Chief George brought us in to his home, no more than 10 feet by 10 feet, and fed us until we nearly burst. They have no electricity, but the warmth of their welcome could light many a city.

A humbling and surreal experience.

The villagers had surrounded the Chief’s home and as we exited they started to sing a song ‘You and I, we are one’. We danced together before we took our leave. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to fully comprehend that evening. Shivers and goosebumps.

Further West in Kaoma we visited the Alan Kerins Projects school. Seeing his name on the wall really hit home the work that Alan has done in the 13 years since 2005.

The kids were incredible and loved a selfie as much as the rest of us. Sister Molly helps to run the school and local orphanage. A strong and warm character, with great respect and authority. She has great motherly qualities and looks after the children as though they were her own.

We played a game against Alan Stars, a soccer team Alan helps to fund. I managed to get some Leitrim jerseys from our kit man Leo Duignan at home. It was great to see them so happy and proud to wear the Leitrim jersey. There is a message in there somewhere too.

But for some dubious offside decisions in our favour we could have been hammered. It ended in a 1-1 draw. It was incredible to see so many of the kids play in their bare feet. And this wasn’t Croke Park. You don’t miss what you don’t have."

To read the entire article, see this week's Leitrim Observer.

This article was due to be published prior to the sad passing of Ronan's mother, Mary Kennedy, last month. The staff of the Leitrim Observer would like to offer our sympathy to Ronan and the Kennedy family on their great loss.