Helping others is seemingly second nature to the Hunts who originally hail from Strabane. For the last nine years they have been welcoming Uylanna and lately her sister Tyula into their home as part of the Chernobyl Childrens’ Aid Project.
Following on from their host family role Emma travelled to Belarus for nine days with the charity, in order to see the work undertaken there. It proved a moving experience, as did Lisa’s trip to Nepal.
Lisa funded her three month career break herself. She taught in a ‘Bamboo School’ so called due to the materials used to build it. Lisa, an organisational development officer with North Hamptonshire County Council, volunteered with the Future Sense Organisation.
She told the Journal: “I had always wanted to volunteer abroad and in November I decided to do something about it. By the end of the month I had everything arranged and left in the first week of January”
Lisa travelled to the Samota Niketan School which educates the poorest children in one of the least affluent countries in the world.
Lisa had to make some major adjustments: “There is electric but only at certain times of the day; there is no such thing as hot running water; and I didn’t eat any meat for three months. The diet is rice and vegtables twice a day. I’ve never eaten so healthily.”
Despite the hardships and the less than five star accomodation, Lisa says:!I would go back tomorrow.”
Emma had her own difficulties to contend with too. In addition to the acute poverty there was the nuclear contamination. The Derry City Social Club employee recalled ‘how the roads have picnic tables on one side and ‘Warning nuclear contamination” signs on the other. It is as if the fallout stops with the white line in the middle of the road.
“The schools are not allowed to plant flowers or vegtables due to the contamination so they have made faux ones from recycled plastic.”
Emma stayed with Uylanna and Tyula’s family: “They gave me the best room in their two room house and it was only when I was out there I noticed most of their posessions had been sent out from Derry and Donegal via the charity. Such is the level of poverty that people, generally, only have two sets of clothes. One for wearing out and one for wearing at home.”
Lisa discovered the same in Nepal: “The children would come to the school, everyday in the same ripped, torn and dirty clothes, the same messy hair. They just can’t afford clothes nevermind shoes.”
Both girls concentrated their efforts on boosting educational provision in the areas they visited. Emma took supplies such as chalk and blackboard paint to the local school in Belarussia.
She helped organise and fund the plumbing of the school toilets. Until that point they had used nothing more than a hole in the ground.
Emma’s main priority however was to meet the families of the children who will be visiting Ireland this summer. Over 60 children will stay in Ireland with host families. Their airfare having been paid for by the charity.
“They are very proud people though, and very generous with what little they have,” she said.
“Even at the school, they are so very proud of their computer suite. It consists of two computers which are used by over 500 pupils.”
Lisa taught English to Nepalese pupils aged between 5 and 17 years old. She was affected most by the toddler group at the school.
“The pre-school group was a large group of toddlers sitting on a dirt floor. They are left there every day. The bamboo walls were see through in parts due to wear and tear.”
In order to improve their situation, Lisa emailed home and asked her friends for a small donation of between £3 and £5.
“I knew just the price of a sandwich would make a big difference. I got nearly £500 from that one email,” said the clearly popular Lisa. “The children are left on a mat in a dark room, largely to their own devices for most of the day. I would go in and play with them, talk with them and I ended up falling in love with them all. They simply had nothing but the floor itself. So that money paid for a new floor, straw mats and educational toys.”
Though Emma “insisted” she purchased some fun toys also.
As the cost of an education is beyond the reach of most Nepalese, where the national average income is US$1,000 per year.. “School costs $1 a month but most parents can’t afford that,” said Lisa.
The Future Sense school in the Gwarko district of Katmandhu is free and manned mainly by foreign professionals on a voluntary basis. Those locals who do teach at the school finished their own education aged 17. It is a delapidated building and Lisa has a photograph of their games room, which consists of patchy bamboo walls and a table tennis table.
The homemade ‘table’ consists of a plywood surface and several bricks instead of a net.
Lisa, who had never taught in a classroom prior to Nepal, suddenly found herself faced with classes of up to 56 pupils. “I had six classes every day, 56 was the most and they were being taught in a very small room. I spent the first few weeks just chatting to them in a relaxed manner and doing different activities but after that I was able to do specific lesson plans.”
The one thing both girls found most difficult was leaving.
“I cried like a baby,” confessed Lisa. “Leaving was just awful. I still get upset when I think of the pupils that are there still. The last day at the school was so very hard. It was as big a culture shock coming back home as there was when I went out. I thought ‘God I can have a hot shower anytime.’”
Emma admitted to being upset “there were tears,” but she is looking forward to the visit of Uylanna and Tyula in nine weeks time.
Their mother, Mary is delighted to have her brood home this week as their father, Peter, celebrated his 75th birthday. Lisa and Emma are joined by siblings Andrew and Rebecca who themselves are no strangers to a sponsor sheet: “I am delighted to have them home. When they first told me they were going I worried, particularly to Nepal, the first thing I asked was ‘Why?’
The family who originally hail from Strabane now live off the Brigade Road, so where does their big heart come from? “The girls have always helped charities,” explained mother of four Mary.
“It all started with Richard Moore who did some fundraising for Chernobyl. That is where our involvement stems from, the seed was sown then. We like the fact that every penny raised in the charity goes directly to the benefit of children in Chernobyl. There isn’t a single penny spent on administration fees.”
“I think it was cemented when Uylanna began visiting us, she just became one of the family. The four of them always helped raise money to bring more children over so we’ve been very lucky I suppose.”