Stradbally couple, Mary and Tom Kearns have been honoured for their dedication to the children of Chernobyl who were affected by the world’s worst nuclear disaster 25 years ago.
Last Thursday, President Mary McAleese paid a very special tribute to 25 of the top volunteers who have dedicated themselves selflessly to improving the lives of so many across the areas worst affected by the nuclear disaster. The ceremony at Farmleigh House was one of the key nationwide commemorations for the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe, which occurred on April 26 a quarter of a century ago.
Mary Kearns says they were representing the entire Stradbally group who open their hearts and houses to the children year in and year out.
“You don’t carry on work like this for 15 years without the kind of support we get from the rest of the group,” she said, “I’m really proud for the Stradbally group.
“It was a great day, President Mary McAleese was lovely. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
The Kearns’ were joined in Farmleigh by their daughter Laura, Ashling Fitzpatrick, who is this year’s group organiser and Noel Dwyer, one of the founding members.
Mary, Tom and their family have been welcoming the children to Stradbally for the last 15 years and are looking forward to this year’s group arriving on July 5.
“They are different children going back to their families. When they arrive they are so drawn, tired and unhealthy looking but, after their month, they are like different children.
“It’s an opportunity for them to realise there is something else in the world for them, the world is their oyster - they know only the village they are from. It’s been scientifically proven that one month here adds two years to the child’s life - that’s a marvellous gift to give any child.”
The President was joined by Chernobyl Children International (CCI) CEO, Adi Roche and CCI Board Member and former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Liz O’Donnell, plus many others in honouring the representative group of CCI volunteers who have worked so tirelessly over the past 25 years. CCI is the largest international NGO working in the Chernobyl region.
“It’s great to be part of an organisation like CCI, who are so focused and so in tune. Adi Roche is so committed. I have heard her speak so many times over the years but even last Thursday she made the hair stand on the back of my neck. She is so passionate.”
But Mary herself is also passionate about the charity and has played her part in the CCI’s contribution of over €90 million in direct aid, medical care, respite, housing and education over the past quarter of a century in response to the disaster.
“People are awfully good, at our candle sale over the weekend we raised over 700 euros. This is fantastic for a small area. Portarlington had their sale before Christmas and raised in the region of 1,300 euros. People in the area are so generous. To raise 90m euros in aid is a serious compliment to the Irish people.”
The local Chernobyl Children group held their own candlelit ceremony of rememberance for the disaster on Monday evening in Oakvale Woods.
“We lit 25 candles in the shape of the number 25 in rememberance of all those who died, but also for all those who survived and continue to live with the legacy of the disaster 25 years on. Similar ceremonies happened all over the world.”