Opinion: Bóthar pointing the way on gifts that make all the difference
Like most people, I've met a few bad eggs but I still believe that human nature is basically good.
Most of us want to help those who need help. The many scandals and scams have shaken our trust. But please don't let the fear of being "had" stop you from reaching out a helping hand, especially at this time of year.
Last week, a friend of mine named Linda came upon a young homeless man begging in Kilkenny. She stopped to talk to him. He was just 19. She asked if he would like a coffee. He said he would love one. She got him one, also the biggest cookie in the shop.
If the man was genuine, Linda's kindness and few euro may have made a small but significant difference to his life. If he wasn't genuine, the €5 wasn't going to break her.
The gap between rich and poor in society is widening and the sense of community declining, so those who slip through the net these days fall faster and further.
As a society we are more comfortable financially than we were in the past, so we need to ensure we don't lose our precious quality of empathy.
A few months back, I called into the Montague Hotel in Emo, Co Laois, now a direct provision centre for refugees, and asked if there was anything I could do to help. No, I was told, the residents have everything they need. On €19 a week, really? But one other thing of interest I was told is that every week they get a couple of offers of help.
Damien O'Reilly recently did a very interesting radio interview with Jim Gavin, about his country roots, his role as Dublin football manager and work as a pilot.
I was also very interested in what he had to say about Bóthar, the Limerick-based animal-gifting charity, that Jim said he is comfortable to have his name associated with, as its governance is very clean.
Bóthar was established in 1989, under the chairmanship of one of the IFA's finest leaders, TJ Maher, with the initial aim of sending as many dairy cows as possible to Africa in 1991, to mark the civic celebrations of the tercentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Limerick.
It soon became obvious that a lot of people liked the concept of a living gift and Bóthar took off. As well as cows, it now sends goats, chicks, pigs and honey bees for needy families, and supports projects like biogas and water filtration systems for fragile communities, in mainly African countries.
In the 1990s, I got a chance to travel with a Bóthar consignment of heifers to Uganda. My abiding memories of the trip were the generous hospitality of those who obviously had so little and how well the heifers were treated - as well as any of our pets. The difference was that these pets were making a very fundamental difference to people's lives.
While plenty of stock still comes from farmers, the range of donors is now much broader, and includes community groups and schools. Gifts cost from €20 and can make a real difference to the very poor.
My interest in Bóthar has rubbed off on our daughter Sarah who used money she got for her Confirmation last year to buy a Friesian heifer from my brother Gerry and he gave her another for company.
Only one of the heifers went in calf during the summer and, this coming Thursday, she is due to go Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, where one quarter of the population survives on less than US $2/day.
The heifers will be assembled in Roscrea mart and then travel onwards.
We are delighted that our local community also got involved in supporting Sarah's endeavour. Glanbia gave 10 bags of feed and the Richard Moynan New Year's Day Memorial Walk and Vintage Run event gave €250 towards the heifer's flight while local AI operator Albert Bailey provided his services free of charge, as did Liam Dunne, who scanned her.
A heartfelt thanks to all involved.
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