Off the Pitch: Alan Kerins - I wanted to help the kids of Africa to follow their dreams
Published 10/07/2015 | 02:30
Like all great things, the Alan Kerins Project had humble beginnings, with a faithful trip to Zambia to help in his capacity as a physiotherapist.
Ten years later, his charity has raised over to €5 million for projects in Zambia and is looking to the future.
The seed that was planted in Kerins' head, drawing him to Africa in 2005, was one sown 21 years previous by his father and a famous concert.
"I remember watching Live Aid and being afraid of my life, I would hide behind the couch at the footage," Kerins says. "That year my father won the Captain's Prize and whatever way they had it, there was a sweep stake worth about £1,800 and he gave every penny of that to Live Aid and that lodged in my mind.
"Never underestimate the power of your actions, both positive and negative."
Initially, there was no intention of setting up the charity when he first visited in the spring of 2005, but the Laois-born Sr Cathy Crawford and the people of Zambia would have an effect on him that would ripple throughout the next decade.
"I was just blown away by this woman and these people" he says.
"Here was an incredible woman in her 60's, literally dragging and saving two communities with her own hands, building houses, digging wells, running a home for the disabled, feeding 800 families. It was unbelievable.
"When I went out originally, I had about €10,000 with me that I hoped to put into the physiotherapy unit but it went straight to the food program because people were starving. It was an eye opener to say the least."
Now in 2015, the Alan Kerins Projects are moving from strength to strength after teaming up with Gorta-Self Help Africa.
"It was a great endorsement that these guys wanted to partner with us. It shows that they believed in us and the people we work with. Their attitude is a 'hand up, not a hand out' which is what makes the partnership so right and so exciting for us."
The Alan Kerins Projects and Gorta-Self Help Africa have big plans for 2015 including a two-day event that will see 32 former Irish rugby heroes hike to the summit of Carrauntoohil in September.
In recent years Alan has had other GAA players in on the act, with Armagh legend Steven McDonnell travelling to Zambia as part of the Discovery Programme.
"The Discovery Programme is brilliant to help individuals develop and become more value focused. It's something we'd love to get more people and businesses to avail of it.
"We also have an Inner Winner Programme which is ran along with Brother Colm O'Connell," Kerins explains. "It aims to teach people how to get the best out of themselves, their teams or work colleagues."
The plains of Zambia are a far cry from the low lying fields of Athenry, but it's not just the terrain that is stark in contrast.
"In Africa, you're dealing with human life, suffering, and poverty, but they still teach you so much, because they have real values. What it does is put everything in perspective and lets you know how privileged we are in Ireland.
"I could always follow my dreams in Ireland, these kids couldn't, so that was one of the major driving forces. I wanted to give those kids the education and life skills to fend for themselves, at the very least, to help them follow their dreams."
There's no doubt that over the past 10 years Kerins and his charity have given children in Zambia opportunities they may have never thought possible.
What a legacy for one dual player from Galway to have, and he's not finished yet.
Music I listen to: Wide variety
Last book I read: The Talent Code
Favourite other sport: Golf
What I like about football/hurling: Speed, skill and artistry of hurling
What I most dislike about football/hurling: Inconsistent and poor standard of refereeing having influences on major games
If I could change one thing about football/hurling: Rules that facilitate football to be more open, attractive and entertaining.
Advice to young players: Play with a smile and try to enjoy your time playing as much as possible.
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