Laois Rose Kate Hyland, has just returned from an emotional volunteering trip to a Belarus asylum with Adi Roche and Chernobyl Children International.
“It was the toughest thing I've ever had to do, but it was also the best experience, I hope to go back again very soon,” said the Clough lady.
She was accompanied by 17 fellow roses including the 2016 Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney, and her teaching colleague at Portarlington Presentation Primary NS, Dearbhladh Walsh the Abu Dhabi Rose.
The Roses stayed in the Vesnova Childrens Mental Asylum where 170 young victims of the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy of 30 years ago are instituitionalized. Babies are still being born with horrific deformities and illnesses linked to the radiation.
The Roses spent their time working with the worst affected children giving them one to one care and attention which they dont get from one end of the day to the other.
“They met us with open arms and smiles, I was heartbroken to leave, if I could have taken some home I would. I have learned that the power of affection can transcend all languages and disability barriers,” said Kate, who said the experience unified the group of Roses even more.
She thanked everybody who donated to her Vesnova fund, and asks everyone to light a candle or donate to CCI, on International Chernobyl Day, April 26.
Dearbhladh also found it hard to leave the children.
“They are the most endearing, loving, affectionate people you could ever meet. You could not put a price on the joy they brought to our lives and hopefully we brought to theirs. It was heartbreaking to walk away, but the work Adi and her volunteers do is something we can all be proud of,” she said.
Adi Roche is voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children.
"This is the fifth year that the Rose of Tralee Festival have sent volunteers to Belarus. They bring such an energy and love to the unfortunate children of Vesnova. They are wonderful ambassadors for their familes, communities and the festival," she said.
There is still time to apply for the 2017 Laois Rose Selection, with the Leinster Express as exclusive media partner. See www.roseoftralee.ie for the entry form.