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Donncha Visits Haiti With UNICEF

Donncha Visits Haiti With UNICEF

“Watching and reading about what has been happening in Haiti since January 14 did little to prepare me for what I am experiencing here in Haiti this week – this trip has been such an eye-opener,” said UNICEF Ireland Ambassador and Irish rugby star Donncha O’Callaghan.

Three days into his first visit to Haiti to see for himself, what the lives of children in Haiti has been like since the earthquake in January, UNICEF Ireland Ambassador Donncha O’Callaghan is still trying to come to terms with what he is seeing.

Donncha’s week long visit coincides with the six month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti which left over 200,000 people dead.

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“One of the saddest things to think about is that they say we will probably never know the number of children who died in the earthquake,” he said.

“But what we do know, and what UNICEF is working to address every day, are the 800,000 children who are living in tents in Port au Prince and the 330,000 children who are similarly affected outside the capital.”

On the first day of his visit, Donncha visited one of the main camps in Champ de Mars, where over 15,000 people are currently living. The Jean-Felix Family showed him exactly where they live.

Donncha visited their tent, where ten family members are currently living. As he approached, the little boys in the family were frantically trying to mop the floor of the tent, where the torrential rain from the night before was still very evident.

Visibly moved by what he saw, Donncha commented on the pride and dignity of the families he met throughout his visit.

“Meeting families who have been living in these unthinkable conditions is so difficult. They bear their fate with such dignity and fortitude, they are truly remarkable,” explained the Munster and Ireland lock..

Donncha gets some fathering practice in

As a very excited, expectant father, Donncha got to try out some fathering skills at the baby tent in the camp. This is a special tent set up for mothers of newborn babies to come to nurse and look after their babies in a clean and baby-friendly environment.

Donncha proved a very popular edition to the tent and within minutes he was surrounded by curious toddlers and babies, all very comfortable to get up close and personal with the big Corkman.

In the last six months, some 23,000 mothers and babies have been helped through the network of 107 ‘baby-friendly tents’ across Port au Prince. Donncha learnt how these tents also provide counselling on proper infant and young child feeding.

Donncha visited the Notre Dame de l’Assomption School in Port au Prince to take part in the special sports porgramme that has been set up for the 6,000 children living in the nearby camp.

UNICEF run this programme in partnership with the Haitian Olympic Committee. Here the children can participate in a wide variety of games and sports – from volleyball to judo, and chess to basketball.

Donncha jumped right into a game of handball and taking advantage of his slight height advantage over the opposition – scored his first hat-trick of the season – much to the delight of his team-mates.

Behind the fun and excitement of the children yesterday at the school, is the very important message that children need the space and opportunity to play and take part in sports and excercise in a safe and friendly environment. Joking and playing with the children all afternoon, the children were very taken with their new friend despite the language barrier.

Donncha added: “The chance that these children are getting to play sport and enjoy themselves is so important for their health and well-being. It gives them a chance to be children and learn so many valuable life lessons.

“In our midst today could be a future Olympic gold medallist or the next Lionel Messi. My only wish is that we had the capacity to provide this programme for every child in Haiti.”

Back to school in Leogane

Donncha also travelled outside Port au Prince to Leogane, the epicentre of January’s earthquake. Over 80 per cent of Leogane was flattened and the number of people lost in Leogane is still unknown.

Donncha visited a school In Leogane that was completely levelled by the earthquake and twelve teachers still remain burried within the rubble. UNICEF has supported the re-opening of the school with temporary tents and school materials for the children in the school.

Donncha timed his visit well and was on hand to help offload several new tents for additional classrooms as well as boxes of recreational kits and additional school materials for the children.

Temporary schools assisted by UNICEF are slowly restoring structure and stability for quake-affected children and providing them with and psychosocial support.

But these efforts represent only the most urgent measures needed to ensure continuity of education amidst the emergency. The real challenge is expanding access to learning opportunities for all children, across the nation.

“Talking with older teenagers here in the school today, you really begin to understand their fears for their future.

“You can tell that these kids really love being in school and they want to grasp every opportunity they can to learn as much as they can so they can pursue their dreams – so many of them want to be doctors and teachers so that they can help their communities, it’s truly humbling to speak with them. I was nothing like that focused when I was their age,” admitted Donncha.

Staying in camp with the UNICEF staff

Throughout his visit, Donncha stayed in Camp Charlie, a tented village that houses most of the UNICEF staff in Haiti. Admitting that the last time he camped, was when he was eleven years old in his back garden, Donncha squeezed his 6ft 6in frame into a 2×2 metre tent for the duration of his visit.

Paying tribute to the work of the UNICEF staff that he met, who hail from all over the world including Ireland and as far afield as Iraq, Australia and Japan, Donncha said: “Having spent the week here at Camp Charlie, I have such respect for all the UNICEF staff – it’s incredible how they are staying here for months on end, living in these conditions and maintaining such high work standards.

“Sitting at dinner, watching staff from all over the world chat and share their stories from their day is a powerful memory I’ll take away with me from this trip – all of them united in their commitment to build a new future for Haiti’s children.

“From what I’ve witnessed this week, I think UNICEF staff are constantly inspired and motivated by the resilience and hope for the future they see in the children they work with every day.

“I’m proud to be an Ambassador for an organisation that is so committed to rebuilding Haiti.”

Summing up his visit, Donncha acknowledged that a key part of his trip was to see how the nearly €;1.4 million raised by UNICEF Ireland had been spent in the past six months.

Donncha announced his Haiti 365 campaign, where he is asking people to donate just five euro per month for a year to UNICEF to help with the immediate needs of the children of Haiti.

He stressed how continued donations were needed if UNICEF is to realise Haiti’s transformation, from a nation too long on the brink of disaster into a Haiti fit for children.

In the coming months, regular donations to UNICEF Ireland will help move tens of thousands of exposed families to safer ground, protect 500,000 children identified as extremely vulnerable and open 600 schools by the end of the year.

Thanking Donncha for taking the time out of his holidays to make his second visit as a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador, UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Melanie Verwoerd said: “Donncha has shown that he cares. The children’s reaction in Haiti showed what a difference a sport star at his level can make.

“During his time in Haiti children laughed and played while they were around him forgetting, for a short while, the horrible conditions they still live in. We are extremely thankful to Donncha for not letting Ireland forget them.”

Related Links –

UNICEF Ireland