Meet the Derry volunteers who make a difference in India

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The people of Derry feed 2000 children in India every day without even knowing it.

Local charity, Action With Effect, have been based in the state of Uttarakhand in North East India for the last 17 years since it was founded by local man Eamon Melaugh. Each year, volunteers from Derry raise thousands of pounds and visit the orphanages, schools and leprosy colonies run by the charity.

On Friday Derry people Colin O’Connor, Ann Barr and Sarah O’Kane started their journey to Uttarakand when they boarded a flight from London Heathrow to India’s capital, New Delhi. After landing Colin, Ann and Sarah endured a six hour car journey north to witness what effect the money raised on the streets of Derry is having on the streets of Dehradun (the capital of Uttarakand).

This is the fourth time that Colin, from Currynierin, has travelled to India and he said that when he visited the region for the first time two years ago his “life was changed forever”.

“Two years ago, after talking to Eamon Melaugh, I was given the opportunity to go and see for myself the work that Action With Effect do,” explained Colin. “Throughout my life I always felt the desire to give something back and help others and it was through Eamon [Melaugh] that I got my chance.”

Colin visited many of the schools run by Action With Effect but nothing could have prepared him for how he felt when he was asked to feed a little baby girl called Chandani.

“On my first visit to India I went to one of the slums - whilst I was there I was asked if I would like to feed a little nine month-old baby called Chandani. As I was feeding her I felt that I had to do something so I decided to sponsor her. After I left I heard that Chandani had been badly burned. Her injuries are so bad that she has had to have ten operations and as a result one of her legs is four inches smaller than the other. I believe that had it not been for the money donated by the people of Derry Chandani would not be alive today. It was because of their generosity that she was able to receive medical treatment. I am really looking forward to seeing her again.”

On his return from India, Colin met up with his friend Ann Barr from Glendale Park to tell her about his life changing experience. Similar to Colin, Ann said that throughout her life she always felt the desire to do something to help those need; after listening to Colin she decided that the only way to fulfil her desire was by travelling to the orphanages and schools and by working with the street children.

“Nothing can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster you experience when you arrive in Dehradun. The people there have very little when it comes to the material side of life but they all have so much love. I remember meeting with the young children at one of Action With Effect’s schools. They were sitting down to their only meal of the day but they made sure that I got something to eat first - that’s just one example of how amazing and wonderful these people are.”

Ann travelled to Dehradun twice in 2010 and this visit will be her third. She says that every time she returns she leaves with an enormous sense of hope. “We take so much for granted here in Derry. We are always moaning or going on about something but when I visited India for the first time I knew my life would never be the same. The way some of the people have to live there is unbelievable. However, although they have very little and sometimes the odds are against them I always feel that there’s hope. When I see what the money raised in Derry is doing it makes me so happy and proud. Action With Effect is helping hundreds of young Indian street children to get an education - an education can sometimes be the difference between life and death for a lot of them but as long as we can continue to raise funds in Derry and elsewhere then we’ll continue to make a difference.”

Colin’s recollection of his experiences in India is inspiring to say the least. It was because of his conversation with Ann that she decided that she wanted to make the trip but his breathtaking descriptions were to convince local Currynierin shop worker Sarah O’Kane to travel to India also.

“Colin is always in and out of the local shop and he was telling me about his trips to India,” said 25-year-old Sarah. “I suppose I am like Colin and Ann in the sense that I always wanted to do something like this but I was never sure how to go about it. After speaking to Colin I decided I wanted to see the orphanages and the leper colonies for myself. I’ve spent the last few months fundraising and I’m really looking forward to going out there to help others. I’ve been told that’ll change my life forever and I dare say that there will be a few tears.”

Colin and Ann’s stories of what they witnessed in the streets, orphanages and leper colonies is as much heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Perhaps one of the heart wrenching stories was of how a mother and father who were lepers made the almost impossible decision to send their two sons to the Action With Effect orphanage; they knew that if the children remained at the colony they would be stigmatised for life and by sending them away to the orphanage they were giving their children the chance of an education and the chance to have a much better quality of life. They will spend over two weeks working with Action With Effect in India. Whilst there, they will spend a night at one of the many leper colonies, help to feed the children and take part in slum outreach programmes.

For further information on Action With Effect or to make a donation contact Colin O’Connor on 07746441777.