So I’ve been rummaging through old drawers at home and just came across an old diary stuffed full of stray papers, boarding passes, poems, photos and many random phone numbers!
It dates back as far as 2003, the year my passion for travel began. It was also the start of what is set to be a life long love affair with humanitarian work, a career path I am now finally pursuing in the academic world.
Early 2003 I was introduced to ‘BOP’, the Belarussian Orphanage Project, which was run by Ed Jordan (maybe still is…). After an intensive weekend long selection process, I was given the green light as a suitable volunteer to travel to Belarus. And boy was I was ecstatic! We would spend 2 weeks helping to build a playground for the Novinki Children’s home and work and play with the children there, who suffer from psycho-neurological disorders, many still affected my the chernobyl nuclear disaster.
I was 16 years old, and ready to take on the world. Or so I thought.
BOP was great because it wasn’t just about volunteering abroad. BOP was a community back home in cork, too, with like minded people who shared a common desire to help out and make a difference.
We spent every spare hour fundraising for the cause; from bag packs, to raffles, sponsored swims, and food drives in local super markets to MANY MANY MANY hours at the newly founded warehouse sorting out and packing ‘aid bags’ full of nappies and Dettol soap, children’s clothes and baby food.Every weekend for months I feel I lived in that warehouse, and I loved every minute of it. The group formed a real bond so when the time came to head to the airport, excitement levels were through the roof!
Arriving in Minsk was a big shock. Although more than 8 years ago now, I can still remember some of the images as if it were yesterday. The huge,gray buildings and been warned not to take photos unless we wanted to get into big trouble. The strict hotel rules about bed times and no noise making. The day we brought the kids to the circus and little Sasha was so happy sitting on my knee that he peed…all over me.
I remember going to the ballet and everyone looking so dolled up! The trip to minsk sea with the kids. The day some Irish soccer team came to visit the children’s home and gave away ALL their shin pads, jerseys and kit as a gift to all the kids. The kids were so thankful, so happy, so over joyed that some insisted on never taking those shin pads off. Not even at bed time.
I remember our whole group been punished and not allowed to visit the sickest children in the therapeutic feeding ward because the minority broke one of the rules. A sad day for us emotional wrecks, at only 16 years old, it was all a lot to take in, in such a short period of time.
I can remember having full on conversations in russian (dha, dha, nyiet!!) with ‘the old ladies’ who were all in their late teens or early 20’s but due dis orders had the mentality of young children. We would spend hours playing with barbies or dolls, me listening to them blabbing away in russian, pretending to understand, nodding my head and saying the few russian words I had been taught!
It really does only feel like yesterday that I was sitting on one fo the circular swings, with deaf artum on my knee, laughing away with all the other Irish volunteers with, at times, not a care in the world.
For more info and photos visit BOP WEBSITE