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Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children’s International Fund 

"Vesnova, which is situated 170km from Chernobyl, is the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The group of 18 Roses and Escorts from the Rose of Tralee, arrived in Belarus to work as volunteers with Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (CCI). The Roses and Escorts, including reigning Rose of Tralee Haley O’Sullivan, [cared] for 170 children in the [Vesanova Children's Asylum] who have a variety of physical and mental disabilities. Many children in the area are still being born with terrible deformities and illness as a result of the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster. Though the Roses were in a low risk area of radiation, they were not allowed to eat local food, drink the water or even wash themselves while there. They spent four days carrying out day-to-day activities in the institution feeding, playing with the children and bringing a little fun into their lives. The 170 children at the centre receive very little if any one-to-one attention on a normal day. In almost 28 years, CCI has delivered €96.5 million in medical and humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russian. Since 2001, volunteers and donors from Ireland have invested over €1.5 million Euro in upgrading the building of Vesnova, which has received Excellence Awards in Belarus for delivering high-quality medical care." -Shelley Marsden, Irish World

Arriving in Vesnova, Belarus I have never felt so far from home. A country that is so far removed from what we know, where people live off land that we would never go near, and children who had no choice but to be born into a place where something that happened 28 years ago will affect their whole lives. The Chernobyl disaster has forever changed the way of life for these people. Many of the children in the Vesnova Children's Asylum were taken from their parents at birth because of the country wanting to hide all imperfections caused by the disaster. While staying in the orphanage we helped with their daily routine, which included feeding the children who could not feed themselves. The children were fed which can only be described as "slop". While it took us around ten minutes to feed each child individually, the nurses who work there poured it down their throats in about one minute. After feeding, all the children were sent in the bathroom and left there to sit. I enjoyed spending most of my time in the high dependency units. We would sing, sit and just talk to the children and even though they could not speak, we knew that our presence was making a difference. My favorite moment of the whole trip was spending time with Zgorik; a little boy who was blind, who would lay on the ground with his fingers in his ears crying in distress. I brought him into the sensory room, sat in the ball pit and massaged his head. Soon, his fingers came out of his ears and he started to sing and smile. Leaving the orphanage was the hardest of all, knowing how life is for these children and that you won't be there for them tomorrow morning. I plan to go back as soon as possible and will continue to do whatever I can to help change the lives of children who need our help.

-Fiona Tolley, 2013 San Francisco Rose 

For more information on Adi Roche's Chernobyl Children's International Fund, please visit: 

http://www.chernobyl-international.com/