Volunteering event hears inspiring stories from overseas

Inspiring stories of people from County Roscommon who have spent time as volunteers working in Third World developing countries were heard at an overseas volunteering event held in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon on Saturday last. Over 25 people turned up for the event. Among the speakers they heard from was Dervla King from Comhlamh, who worked in Uzbekistan in Central Asia and she told guests about the Comhlamh Volunteering Options Programme. The programme is a one-stop-shop web-based approach to accessing all the information needed for volunteering overseas in developing countries ( www.volunteeringoptions.org ). The audience then heard from the well-known footballer from Kiltoom, John Tiernan who volunteered with EIL (Experiences in International Living) to work in Guatemala. He volunteered because he felt the need for a greater challenge than what he was doing. He began by pushing a barrow in Guatemala but felt he could do more. He quickly realised that enterprise and fair trade was the best way forward to help the Guatemalan people out of poverty. He now has the Guatemalans producing pens and biros in the Roscommon colours and selling them locally. According to John ‘trade is better than aid’. John is now working to support fair trade and don’t be surprised if you see him selling fair trade Guatemalan made scarves and goods around the county. Gerry Nolan spoke about how he was inspired by Niall Mellon who was motivated to do something for the people of the townships in South Africa who lived in dire conditions. What motivates Gerry himself him is the satisfaction and delight he sees ‘on the faces of the hundreds of South Africans in the townships who have benefited from the houses built by the Niall Mellon Township Trust’. This was a project he could offer his skills to and he went on to speak about the many employment opportunities created for South Africans during the Annual one week Building Blitz which occurs in November. Gerry explained that part of his role is to go out in advance of the main building party and make preparations to make sure there is a successful outcome to the Building Blitz. Following this Fiona Dunne, originally from Ballyleague, gave an outline of her experiences as a volunteer with the Diocese of Killala working in Brazil. She experienced great support in her settling down period from her fellow missionaries and worked with people of all ages in various types of pastoral and social activities including children where she found good use in passing on some of her graphic design and artistic skills. Hugh Baxter spoke about his volunteering in Thailand and Burma and conveyed an excellent grasp of the Burmese struggle for justice and human rights throughout the decades culminating in the most recent street protests and suppression by the military. Sarah Molloy volunteered with the Billy Riordan Trust and was involved with diverse projects including support towards HIV/Aids victims, beekeeping enterprises and childcare in Malawi. Her husband started a football team. Sarah pointed out that she would have preferred to have received training in advance of going. On a lighter note she spoke of a government official who couldn’t fathom what all the talk of ‘stress’ in the first world was all about. Another interesting talk was given by John Burns and his daughter Catherine. John, his wife Moira and family volunteered with the Sisters of Mercy to work in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. John felt that he was preparing to work overseas from many years back when he lived in the UK. He didn’t like the cabbage in the school dinners as a boy and a nun said to him if he ever wanted to work on the missions he would need to get use of eating things he didn’t like. Catherine, his daughter, spoke about her very positive and happy experiences in international schools in Kenya. In conclusion the MC for the event, Noel Connolly, said he was particularly conscious on an occasion like this of the countless Irish who worked overseas in the past in the most disadvantaged and poorest places in the world and still do today through Irish and foreign NGOs, as Irish Missionaries and through the Irish Aid Programmes. He expressed the view that more people should consider volunteering in developing countries with travel and information more accessible. He pointed to the excellent role models Roscommon was fortunate to have and that the networking that had begun at the event could be a support for returned volunteers as well as a support for those considering volunteering in the future.