On a mission in Belarus

A group of local volunteers recently travelled to Belarus as part of a hugely successful charity initiative and are already planning their next trip

In September this year, a group of enthusiastic volunteers from the local area travelled to Belarus to embark on their latest charitable project. Portlaw men Michael ‘Noddy’ Jacob and Mick O’Hara were among the group who departed bound for the Pruzhany region of Belarus.
Their trip, from August 31st to September 17th, marked Noddy’s 17th year embarking on such an expedition while Mick has been travelling for eight years. After many years visiting Belarus as part of another charitable group, they decided some years ago to form their own organisation entitled ‘Munster Chernobyl Aid – Another Journey of Hope’.

Michael ‘Noddy’ Jacob pictured at a civic reception in Belarus last year in recognition of their efforts. Also included are Mick O’Hara and Clodagh Maher

Michael ‘Noddy’ Jacob pictured at a civic reception in Belarus last year in recognition of their efforts. Also included are Mick O’Hara and Clodagh Maher

The September trip, which focused on a hospital in Pruzhany, was their third year travelling to Belarus as part of this organisation. On arrival, they found the hospital was spotlessly clean but lacking any adequate facilities. In the showering area, there were six showers but only one was working properly. The hospital had a very poor recreational area and the patients had little in the way of home comforts. The enthusiastic volunteers got to work and there are now six new, thermostat-controlled showers as well as new piping. The recreation yard at the hospital was also improved. To the delight of the patients, the Irish visitors played music in the recreation room which provided great fun and entertainment.
Noddy and Mick said all the work was worthwhile when they saw the impact that their presence created.

“It’s all worth it when you see the smile on those people’s faces,” says Mick.
Noddy says the people are delighted to see the volunteers and recalled the joy on one man’s face in particular. “When he sees me coming, it’s like a child seeing Santa Clause. It’s a joy to behold,” he said.

In total, ten volunteers travelled over as part of the 2019 ‘Munster Chernobyl Aid – Another Journey of Hope’ trip: Noddy and Mick from Portlaw; Gusty Carey from Bonmahon; Pat Doyle from Slieverue; Adrian O’Sullivan from New Ross; John Roche from Dungarvan; Ray Crowley from Lismore; and Denis Grogan, Ayrton Ryan and Johnny O’Dwyer from County Tipperary.
They travelled from Dublin to Cherbourg, through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and across the border into Belarus. It took five days alone to reach the border, with a day then spent on the Poland-Belarus border as they negotiated their entry.
During their stay in Pruzhany, the volunteers rented a house located nearby.
They worked solidly for four days before taking one day off to bring a group of residents out for a meal. It was then time to embark on the arduous trip back home again.
All of the volunteers said they enjoyed the great camaraderie amongst their close-knit group as well as the strong relationships which they formed with the residents they met and interacted with.

Putting their talents to good use, they enjoyed a few memorable music sessions along the way. To the pleasant surprise of their fellow passengers, they also showcased their talents on the ferry on their way to Cherbourg and attracted plenty of attention.When passengers learnt of the volunteers’ admirable quest, many came forward to donate money to the cause.

However, it’s not just the passengers which they have received support from.
The volunteers with ‘Munster Chernobyl Aid – Another Journey of Hope’ have received huge support from within their own local areas. Waterford and South Kilkenny is the core region in which they continuously fundraise all year round. Unsurprisingly, huge costs are incurred by embarking on the trips to Belarus. A convoy made up of six vans travelled to Belarus as part of the most recent trip. It costs around €4,000 to get each van to Belarus, including insurance, fuel etc.

Volunteers pictured with hospital residents and staff.

Volunteers pictured with hospital residents and staff.

In order to offset these costs, numerous fundraising activities have been organised including sponsored Christmas swims, supermarket collections, and Noddy’s popular music nights.
On Saturday night November 23rd, a music night featuring the Dublin City Ramblers was held at The Forge, Portlaw. The successful event raised over €1,200 and this will be used to bring two children from Belarus to Ireland for Christmas. They will arrive on December 20th and stay until January 11th, with one staying in County Waterford and one in South Kilkenny.
Noddy and the crew have also received huge support in Kilmacthomas, including from Jenny and all the gang at Kierseys and the Power family.

In order to best deal with the huge amount of items they receive as donations, the volunteers have established an efficient storage and distribution system. They are partnered with Nobility, a charity which manages and maintains the large store of goods which are brought over from Ireland and distributes these to the needy in a system similar in its operation to Ireland’s St Vincent de Paul. The volunteers say they have been inundated with donations from all quarters. “Many people have given us clothes belonging to their late parents or children that have passed away,” explained Mick. “We have received huge support.”
Noddy explained that one woman recently approached them with a cheque for €500 after hearing of their work. “That’s the kind of support we have,” he said.Items belonging to well-known Dunhill man, the late Jim Harney, were donated by his wife Mary who Noddy says “goes out of her way to help us each year.”

They are grateful to all who help in any way, including Irish Ferries who assist with logistics.
In recognition of their efforts, the volunteers have been afforded a civic reception with the Mayor of Pruzhany where he thanked ‘Munster Chernobyl Aid – Another Journey of Hope’ for their continued support and interest towards the Belarusian people.

Future plans
Not content with sitting on their laurels, the volunteers are already making plans for their next expedition.Some members will fly to Belarus in February to survey their next project which is also within the Pruzhany area. This project involves a 36-bed care home which is being created within a premises that was previously used as a school. A lot of modifications must be made and plenty of materials are needed to carry out the work and fit out the building as a suitable care home.The volunteers will stay in the building while the work is taking place and hope to have all the necessary paperwork completed as speedily as possible in order to proceed as planned.Having achieved so much already, Noddy, Mick and their colleagues are certain to succeed at whatever they turn their hand to and everyone in Waterford and the surrounding areas can be proud of what they have achieved in Belarus.

For more information visit the ‘Munster Chernobyl Aid – Another Journey of Hope’ Facebook page.

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