I have been thinking hard about how to put my experiences in Belarus into words. It was such a life-changing experience for us all and we will never forget it. I travelled to Vesnova, a children’s mental asylum, in Belarus on the 24th of March with 13 other Roses and two Escorts. We had all been fundraising hard in advance of the trip but had no idea of how much the money is needed.
We arrived in Vesnova at 12 o’clock that night where Adi Roche, the CEO of the charity Chernobyl Children’s International spoke to us about the asylum. She mentioned that it was situated at the end of the road and that it was really symbolic of the children’s lives there. The children that enter Vesnova will either leave in a coffin or will be moved to an adult mental asylum/prison when they reach 18 where the conditions are said to be terrible.
Adi’s words had such a huge impact on us all and we were shocked by her descriptions. We went to bed nervous with anticipation of the next morning that lay ahead for us.
The next morning we put on our Chernobyl t-shirts and I know I was quite nervous as I didn’t know what lay ahead. However, when we went into Unit 5 and saw all the children lying in their beds waiting to be fed we all immediately embraced them and showed them the love and attention that they so desperately crave.
It was an incredible experience as we were given a tour of the asylum by Adi and in each room every child was so excited to see us come in the door and they would nearly knock you over with their hugs! From that moment on we knew there was nothing to fear and that our goal was to make these children smile for the few days we were there. And that’s exactly what we did!
We fed the children each morning and gave them all of the love in our hearts. The amazing Meath Rose, Dearbhla Gilroy, sang to the children with her beautiful voice and we all joined in. To see their faces light up was so heartwarming and I especially loved when I picked up one girl called Yana, how she nuzzled into my neck.
The children gave us as much love as they could and as Adi told us, they just wanted us to be their Mama’s and Papa’s for the few days.
Throughout the trip we were very emotional, we would cry at the stories that Adi told us about some of the children, and laugh with them when they laughed. It really was such an emotional journey for all of us and in true Rose of Tralee style we supported each other 100% of the time. The bond with the people you meet in the Rose of Tralee is like no other. It was incredible to see the range of skills from the Roses and Escorts. From nurses, doctors, occupational therapists to teachers we all had an incredible set of skills to help the children out in any way we would.
On the Wednesday, Adi and the CCI team brought us out of Vesnova to visit a ‘Home of Hope’. This is a charity driven initiative where Belarusian children who have been abandoned or abused are taken in by a family and that family fosters 10 children. The home we visited was so inspiring, especially to see how happy the children were there. Soon afterwards we visited the home of a typical poverty stricken Belarusian family and it was so overwhelming to see the conditions. The family had two young children in a small two room house that was absolutely freezing. This trip gave us all some incredible perspective on life and I swore to myself that I would never complain again about ‘problems’ that are so trivial in comparison to the lives of others.
On our last night in Belarus the children and teenagers of Vesnova put on an incredible show for us with dancing and singing and they were so proud to show us their many talents. Saying goodbye to the children was most definitely the hardest part of the trip.
I know that we are all already thinking about our return trip and how we can raise more money for CCI. It is such an impressive charity and I want to sincerely thank Adi Roche, Marie Cox, and all the team at CCI for giving us the opportunity to experience something that is hard to put into words. I admire the incredible people who can dedicate their lives to charity more than ever after this year.
I also want to say thanks to all of my fellow Roses and Escorts for the incredible love and compassion they showed the children of Vesnova. You are an incredible group of people that I will hold dear to my heart forever. We had an experience together that is hard to describe. You can take a look at our journey by clicking the link below that was filmed by the wonderful Mr. Rose TV himself, Brendan Galvin. Huge thanks to Brendan for organizing this trip of a lifetime.