Sunday 21 January 2018

Week 4: The positive outlook from children who have so little

Trina Gilchriest of Chernobyl Children International talks to Brenda McCormick about the children she meets

Triona Gilchriest in the grounds of Vesnova in the snow with Lena and Anton
Triona Gilchriest in the grounds of Vesnova in the snow with Lena and Anton

I have been involved with Adi Roche's Chernobyl Children International (CCI) for the last six years, and I'm currently the chairperson of the North Dublin Outreach Group.

It was founded in the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986 at Chernobyl to help children, families and communities in the affected regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia.

CCI is the only organisation working in the Chernobyl area to be honoured with UN official NGO status, and it has delivered €98.5m worth of aid to impoverished communities and children across Chernobyl regions since 1986.

I first got involved after seeing a news piece on TV about children arriving in Ireland for rest and recuperation.

I thought it was a really lovely thing to do and felt our family was at a point in our lives where we could offer something to these children for a summer. Host families in Ireland have taken 24,700 children on rest and recuperation holidays.

However, at that time of deciding I would never have foreseen how involved I would get, hosting children during summer and Christmas holidays.

I also travel over to Belarus about three to four times a year to volunteer in Vesnova Children's Mental Asylum, which now thanks to the generosity of the Irish people and volunteers, is a world-class child care centre from which many of CCI's medical care programmes are run.

But once you meet the children there is no going back. Their positive outlook on life and smiling faces win your heart in an instant, and at the moment I cannot imagine life without them being a part of it.

When you see the life that some people have been dealt due to fate, the little hassles just fade into the background. I absolutely love the joy and laughter that these children bring into my life and the small bit of TLC that I can give them in return.

The Vhi Women's Mini Marathon is hugely important to CCI. It unites women on the day and empowers them to do good for themselves, but also gives the opportunity to do good for others.

It is fantastic to see so many good people in one place all trying to help and make a difference in the world. That's all we try to do - our motto is heartbeat by heartbeat, child by child, we remain steadfast.

Our funds raised go to many different programmes including hospice and community care, medical care and the Home of Hope programme which provides an alternative to state institutions. These children put their tiny hearts and hopes in our hands and one by one we try to make a miracle happen.

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