Roses aim to put smile on faces of Chernobyl children
THESE Roses are on a mission to bring smiles.
A group of 19 Rose of Tralee contestants flew to Belarus yesterday to work as volunteers in the Vesnova children's mental institution 175km from Chernobyl, the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident.
They are being accompanied by Adi Roche of Chernobyl Children International which has been working to transform the lives of children at Vesnova for the past decade.
When they first arrived at the institution, the children were living in squalor. Now it provides the best of care for hundreds of abandoned and orphaned children.
Last year's Dublin Rose Arlene O'Neill said their mission is to bring some fun into the children's lives.
"We'll wash them and feed them and sing to them and dance with them and just make them smile," she said.
Arlene, a scientist at Trinity College Dublin, admitted the week-long mission would be a difficult experience for the Roses. "I'm going to try my best to be strong. When I come home I'll probably break down, but I'm going to try not to over there," she said.
"We'll hug them and hold them and be tactile because it's something they don't experience very much."
Mayo Rose Dervla Kenny, who has already volunteered at an orphanage in India, said it is difficult to know what to expect in Vesnova.
"If we can go over and put a smile on their faces, that's great. I'm just delighted to be involved," said the occupational therapist.
The Roses, and two escorts, will carry out sensory work and help with feeding and washing. None of the children can function without assistance.
The Roses have already organised fundraising events at home and will donate more than €20,000 to fund ongoing work in Vesnova.
Ms Roche said: "Each group of Roses and escorts that travel with us bring, love, compassion and, most importantly, fun and laughter to the children."