One PhD Student Travels to Belarus to Visit the Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum
Rachel Flynn is a first year international PhD student in the Faculty of Nursing. Her areas of research interest are knowledge translation (KT) and improvement science in child health. Dr. Scott (Tier II Canada Research Chair for KT in Child Health) is her PhD supervisor and she currently works for Dr. Scott’s research program (ECHO- Translating Evidence in Child Health to Enhance Outcomes) as a graduate research assistant.
In April 2013, Rachel was awarded a prestigious internationally recognized non-academic award called the ‘The 2013 Western Canada Rose’ for the Rose of Tralee festival. This award recognizes women for their aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility, and Irish heritage. The Rose of Tralee is an International festival celebrated once a year that brings young women of Irish descent from around the world to Ireland for a global celebration of Irish culture.
Over the past year as the Western Canada Rose, Rachel has participated in many charity events and has represented Western Canada at a variety of local and international events. The highlight of her year as the Western Canada Rose was a recent volunteer trip to Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum in Belarus. She volunteered there with The Rose of Tralee and Chernobyl Children International, an Irish based non-profit charity organization, and has shared her experiences with us:
Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum is the home for about 160 children aged between 4 and 19 years who have a wide range of learning and physical disabilities as result of the nuclear disaster that occurred almost 28 years ago. April 26, 2014, is the 28th anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, an event that is a distant memory for many. However, 28 years later, the communities of Chernobyl continue to live with its awful legacy every day. These communities suffer with high rates of cancer, birth defects and congenital disorders caused by their radioactive environment. The people who have been affected in Belarus, Western Russia, and the Ukraine are too poor to afford even basic medical treatments and those with disabilities are stigmatized by their society and left in asylums to live or die.
The children in Vesnova are beautiful and innocent but they are not cared for like children; they are left in this asylum where they will either die or be transferred to an adult asylum when they turn 18. I experienced the reality of these children being fed lying down, left in restraints all day, crying and banging their heads off the floor and walls, and shown little love or attention. This reality was heartbreaking to see. For one week I got to provide love, affection, and laughter to these children, which are moments I will never forget. The most amazing part of this trip was witnessing their smiles, hearing their laughs and receiving their cuddles. These children gave me more than I ever expected, they reminded me how important it is to show people love, to care for others and to appreciate what we have in life.
Every volunteer who takes time out to care for these children, every person who raises money for the charity, every builder who works tirelessly to improve their living conditions and everybody who donates their life to make a difference to these children’s lives brings hope for their future and happiness to their lives.
For a glimpse into the experiences this group shared, please watch the video below. Thanks to Rachel for sharing this with us!
Having trouble viewing? Click HERE to watch the video on YouTube.
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