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Never too late to volunteer

THE collapse of the Celtic Tiger and the focus on the disaster in Haiti has had an unexpected effect on the street children and orphans of Africa. An inability to access help and funding is crippling the efforts of orphanages and rehabilitation centres to help some of Africa’s most vulnerable children.
The support of volunteers from Ireland has now become crucial to the survival of many small projects. Denis Buckley of Humanitarian Volunteers is actively canvassing for ordinary Irish women and men to contribute just two weeks of their life to work on a project in Africa and help the children there. The organisation has received a tremendous response from Clare volunteers and, in fact, they represent the majority of volunteers to date.
School drop-out is a major factor leading children to full-time life on the streets in Africa. According to Denis, despite the fact that school is an incredible opportunity to intervene and promote youth resilience, many street children rarely view school as a positive alternative to home life. However, while street children dislike school, they do highly value education.
“This is where the Irish volunteers can help. They can give hope and transform young lives. They can build friendships with these children and assist them to trust once more. They can equip them with the tools to ensure a smooth transition back into society and to a sustainable and confident independence,” he said.
Volunteers in the past have used their knitting skills, Irish dancing experience, art, languages, music, sports and a variety of other skills to assist the children.
“One recent senior citizen volunteer encouraged the children to become authors and write stories. The kids were given the freedom to choose which kind of story to write. Professional staff were amazed that the kids were particularly enthusiastic about this activity. It prompted great interaction with the kids, in which they shared ideas and thoughts. Professional observers agreed that projects like this help the kids practise important academic skills, while offering the additional benefit of helping them to progress and reinforce their decision to come off the streets and work toward a healthier, more positive future. The project culminated in a special celebration, during which each student had the chance to present his or her completed book. All of the books are now on display in the Street Children Centre for visitors to enjoy,” said Denis.
Five million children die in Africa every year. Even for those who make it past their fifth birthday, the future is bleak. Girls, in particular, have very few chances in life and and where families have to choose between educating a boy or a girl, it is usually the boy who will stay in class.
Girls not only take on unpaid household chores, like childcare, cooking and cleaning, but are also likely to be expected to bring in a wage. Denis points out that this “double burden” imposed on many girls robs them of the opportunity to “develop to their full potential”.
Despite the economic downturn, Denis and Humanitarian Volunteers continue to support projects and children by supplying them with small groups of volunteers from Ireland. The decrease in financial aid from governments and aid agencies makes volunteering all the more crucial.
Volunteers will work in street children centres in Kenya or Tanzania. They will assist with sports and games, arts and crafts, school studies, teaching English, farm work, decorating or assisting generally in the operation of the centres.
For further details, contact Denis at 086 8520271.

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