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INTERVIEW Fostering hope in Belarus

Westport to Belarus
Carmel Mulchrone, Breege Joyce, Una Canning and Margaret Moran outside the House of Hope in Belarus.

Fostering hope in Belarus

Áine Ryan

FROM the age of seven she  brought homeless children back to her mother while he grew up in an orphanage, always yearning for the warmth and security of a family. Today, Belarusian couple, Zhanna and Radik Yumauzhina have a rather unique family themselves: four biological children and 11 foster children. And now, with the help of the people of Westport, and surrounding areas, this very busy Mama and Papa are happily ensconced in their House of Hope, which is part of Chernobyl Children International (CCI).
Indeed, Carmel Mulchrone, Margaret Moran, Una Canning and Breege Joyce, all proactive members of the Westport branch of the Chernobyl International Outreach Group, are just back from Zhoblin, in the eastern European country, where people are still grappling with the effects of the nuclear disaster. 
They explain to The Mayo News about the genesis of their fundraising drive to build the House of Hope and how they are already planning a second one.
“Four years ago we heard about the project after Carmel attended  a CCI conference in Kilkenny  and we immediately felt it was a worthy endeavour. We started fundraising and did just about everything possible in Westport, Newport, Mulranny, Achill, Aughagower, Ballina, even in Carmel’s home village of Cloonfad in County Roscommon,” Margaret Moran explains.
Continuing, Carmel says: “We had bungee-jumping and sheep shearing, an Elvis night and a fish cookery evening. There was a gardening event and quizzes and Mairéad Bourke organised a brilliant art auction while her husband, Brian Quinn, organised a cycle race. Everyone became involved –the youth club, the scouts and the schoolchildren –the support was just unbelievable.
“The atmosphere was brilliant and we managed to raise €50,000 in 15 months, even though we had three years to do it. And now, with the help of corporate sponsorship and extra monies we raised we have enough to buy a second House of Hope. Although because of Russian speculators coming into Belarus and buying-up property the prices have gone up.” The four women were really proud of their many supporters back home as they met many local dignitaries, including the Belarusian Minister for Education, at the official launch of the House of Hope last month.
“It was amazing to see all these kids in such a small space and all being so good to each other. Some of them really have had traumatic experiences but are so happy now, leaving behind a grim cycle of poverty and abandonment,” observes Breege Joyce.
She leaves it to Una Canning to tell The Mayo News about the circumstances of some of these foster children. 
“Ilya (11), Andrei (10), Alesia (9) and Maksim (7) are all siblings who were separated after their alcoholic father died in a house fire and their mother, also an alcoholic, was no longer responsible enough to care for them. Irina (7) and Daria (6) were left at an orphanage by their orphaned mother, who did not have the maternal skills to rear them. If you saw them now,” says Una smiling.
Indeed all the foster children – aged from 18 months to 15 – have endured a litany of social and economic privations.
“If these children were not fostered, when they reached 18 they would have been put into an adult mental institution, which is like a prison. That would have been their lives, so you can imagine how happy we are that we have helped to save 11 lives. We are so proud of the people of Westport and the other communities that have been so generous,” she added.