The Friends of the Children of Chernobyl is a charity that was set up in 1993 and the National Chairperson of the charity is a Tipperary lady, Mary Finnegan. Mary, who lives near The Commons, Ballingarry, along with her husband Dan and three daughters, first got involved with the charity after seeing a short film produced by a local farmer who had visited the region and he put her in touch with the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl branch in Thurles.
Mary and Dan became a host family for the visiting children from the Brest region of Belarus which is the community that the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl focus on. During the early years the children coming to Ireland were suffering from Thyroid conditions. Radiation is still a threat in Belarus but not to the dangerous levels it was in those early years. Over a period of 20 years the charity came to the realisation that the illness affecting many of the children in Belarus were primarily due to the consequences arising out of poverty, deprivation and the ignorance of basic hygiene standards necessary to maintain a healthy standard of living. During this time the charity quickly came to the realisation that their remit should become much wider than they first realised and they have now shifted their focus to working increasingly in Belarus itself. Of course children can and will still come to Ireland. Mary is continuing to visit schools in the region to arrange these visits. This year however some parents chose not to send their children and Mary wonders if they knew the cost involved would they send the children at all in order for the funds to be spent locally improving the lives of many in the region.
Another change for the charity is that they now have International Charity status which means less red tape for the charity to deal with in Belarus. Mary explained that in the past it was very difficult to give food and medical supplies to people in the area affected by the explosion at the nuclear reactor but with their International Charity status it will make it a lot easier for the charity to work to the best of its ability on the ground in Belarus.
The bureaucrats in Belarus are not the only battle that Mary has had on her hands as she was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease last year. However that has not been a setback to Mary. In fact it has made her even more determined to press ahead with the plans the charity has to make more of an impact in the community affected by the nuclear fallout. Mary and her daughter Sinead have just returned from a two week visit to Belarus and it is the second time that Mary has been this year. She is busy working on a project that will enable the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl to bring physiotherapists and much needed medical supplies to the community in Belarus as there are many people suffering with physical handicaps. These people are unable to travel to Ireland for treatment so it has to go to them.
Last year 107 children were bought to Ireland for a holiday at a cost of over E42,000. While some children will continue to visit Ireland for a holiday, Mary believes that some of the money raised for the charity on a national level could be better spent improving their home life through donations of food and medical supplies. The people in the Brest region were the worst affected and as a result there are a number of social problems such as high unemployment, poverty and alcoholism. By being more involved in the community Mary believes that the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl can make a huge impact in improving the lives of those affected by the nuclear disaster.
Mary is not letting something like her Parkinson diagnosis stand in the way of the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl giving the people of the Brest region a better chance at life and it is something that we should all take inspiration from and support Mary and the charity.
For more information please contact Mary on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or 086122283. If you would like to make a donation towards the national fund for the Friends of the Children of Chernobyl you can donate through: Bank of Ireland, Ballinasloe, Galway, sort code: 90-36-80; account no.: 32059349.