Thursday 29 September 2016

Find your feet for the vulnerable folk of Varanasi

Fiona O'Connell

Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30

The sight of so many schoolchildren around this country town once more -
The sight of so many schoolchildren around this country town once more - "with satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school" reminds us that those schooldays really aren't that easy. (Stock)

The sight of so many schoolchildren around this country town once more - "with satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school" reminds us that those schooldays really aren't that easy.

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Speaking of young ones, nine-year-old Ellie held her fourth annual cake sale for charity recently. While a wonderful achievement, such tasty treats are unimaginable for some of Ellie's counterparts - who silversmith Eva Lynch is trying to raise funds for next weekend.

Eva's 'A River Walk for Varanasi' along the beautiful 12km stretch of river from Inistoige to Thomastown seems appropriate, given that the northern Indian city - which Mark Twain described as "older than history, older than tradition, older than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together" - is where Hindu pilgrims flock to bathe in the River Ganges' sacred waters, and to perform funeral rites.

Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi releases you from the cycle of birth and death. Making it all the more poignant that so many poor children there perish because of malnutrition.

This latest in a long line of efforts by Eva to help these most vulnerable of Varanasi is the result of her "life-changing" encounter with Paddy McMahon - a former nurse who quit his UK job because he "felt he was not making the most of his skills, just gathering money for stuff he didn't need," as Eva puts it.

Eva, at the time visiting Varanasi, had heard about Paddy and intended contacting him through social media - until serendipity got there first.

Her usual cafe wasn't open one rainy morning, so Eva "hurried along to the next place and sat at the only available chair at a table opposite a scruffy looking western guy. He said something like 'woeful day out there!' in a broad Cork accent. We chatted for a bit - and lo and behold, it was Paddy!"

Eva joined Paddy the following day at one of the mobile medical units that he runs "out in the sticks" which provides cheap check-ups for the locals and draws malnourished children to them.

"We watched this woman carry in the tiniest little child in her arms, who I thought was a newborn," Eva recalls, "but in fact she was two years old. It was horrifying: she was in so much pain there weren't even tears, just grief etched on her tiny face. It was so disturbing and so, so sad".

"That evening I posted an appeal on Facebook, offering an earring sale: €20 for a pair of earrings = one child's life saved.

"The response was brilliant - 130 pairs, I think it was. Which I then had to make," she laughs. Eva and her fiance, John, have since volunteered with Paddy many times.

After more than a decade of devotion, the passionate Irishman now needs to come home. He is seeking corporate funding to keep the Varanasi Children's Hospital going.

So any companies out there are most welcome to walk this way next Saturday.

Sunday Independent

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