A young West Kerry teacher is hoping to make a real difference to the lives of children suffering from neurodevelopmental disorders after she travels to Belarus this month to work as a volunteer.
Catríona Begley from Gurrane, Dingle will travel to Minsk on March 30 to work with children at the Novinki Orphanage and those in residential care at the Semashko and Draznia institutions for individuals with neuro-developmental disorders.
"I spent eight months teaching in a special needs school in Kilkenny last year where I came across a wide variety of disabilities," Catríona said. "I know many people who have travelled to Belarus and I have heard such amazing stories about it, it's always been at the back of my mind to do it. I learnt a lot from my time teaching in Kilkenny and I feel this is the perfect opportunity for me to travel and to use the knowledge and skills I acquired as a special needs teacher."
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster had an enormous impact on Belarus, an Eastern European country with a population of 10.4 million. According to the UN's statistics, 70 per cent of the total radioactive fallout from the accident descended over a quarter of Belarus. The fallout affected more than 2.2 million people - including 500,000 children - and the region still suffers from the devastating consequences of Chernobyl.
Catríona is travelling to the region with the Belarusian Orphanage Project; a voluntary registered charity working to meet the needs of differently-abled children and adults in institutions and orphanages in Minsk, Belarus.
"The project has a special emphasis on the care of smaller children with both physical and psycho-neurological disorders and there will also be an educational emphasis on art and music," Catríona said.
Catríona is currently collecting sponsorship in the West Kerry area; sponsorship cards are available at Siopa Londis Uí Fhlaithearta in Baile an Mhuilinn or people may contact Catríona directly.