While Wexford Rose Julie Sinnott is well used to dealing with happy and healthy children in her role as a primary school teacher, the Ballindaggin native met children living with horrendous conditions as she travelled to an orphanage in Belarus with her fellow roses recently.
Julie joined 2017 Rose of Tralee Jennifer Byrne and 25 of her fellow roses in making the journey to Belarus with Adi Roche's Chernobyl Children International. While there, she visited the Vesnova Children's Mental Asylum, where victims are still being born with dreadful deformities and illnesses following the Chernobyl disaster and where they are sent by the country's authorities.
The roses' mission was to provide one to one attention to the children, who are left very much alone all day with feeding and nappy changes being the only attention they get, and to try and bring some smiles to their faces. While Julie was confronted with some harrowing scenes, she and her fellow roses did manage to bring a little bit of happiness to the children and had many units at the orphanage buzzing with excitement.
'I still find the experience so difficult to put into words,' she said. 'Vesnova Children's Mental Asylum is an inspirational place, so full of hope but yet one of the most heartbreaking places I've ever been. It was extraordinary. The children were remarkable, beyond compare. As roses, we spent our time cuddling, feeding, playing with and offering love to some of the most vulnerable children. Sometimes lost for words, a quiet hug, smile or giggle was all that was needed to show that we care.'
'I am so grateful for my experience and feel so privileged to have spent time with these amazing young people,' Julie continued. 'It was by no means an easy trip but I am so, so glad I got the opportunity to go and I hope to return to Vesnova soon. The effects of the Chernobyl disaster are everlasting and these children will continue to need our help.'