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Wesley O Brien. Photograph by John Kelly.

Tennis brings hope to refugees

A KILLALOE tennis coach is serving up more free coaching sessions for underprivileged children and adults in memory of his parents in Romania from June 23 to 29.
Wesley O’Brien is raising money to fund his latest overseas trip through his charity “Hit and Hope”.
Mr O’Brien set up this charity to bring free tennis lessons and equipment to kids and youth affected by war and conflict.
It has grown to provide tennis coaching in refugee camps, disadvantaged communities, underprivileged kids and special needs families from all over Europe.
His latest venture will be done in memory of his parents who died within three weeks of each other earlier this year.
Mary O’Brien, née Reddan, Crossroads, Killaloe, died on Christmas Eve, 2003 before her husband, Eddie on January 14, 2024.
“I was doing these trips for a long time before my parents passed away. But these trips are particularly relevant to me now. I like to think that my parents’ legacy is what I do. Their legacy is me going to camps and helping children.
“A big part is making my parents proud and doing this in their memory. It is more poignant now even though they are always proud of what I did. Everything I do now is even more important because I do it in their memory,” he said.
Having developed two apartments in his grandmother’s old house, his parents lived downstairs and he lived upstairs in Crossroads.
Mr O’Brien recalled holding Mary’s hand before she died at University Hospital Limerick a few weeks after a hip operation.
On January 14, he found his father had died while he was sitting on a couch.
Flying into Cluj in Northern Romania, Mr O’Brien will travel to a small rural village about two hours from the airport where he will be hosted by Love Light Romania, which is dedicated to serving marginalised groups in the field of HIV and breaking poverty cycles.
This organisation works to empower communities in Romania who would not have the right to a healthy life, education or employment.
It provides material and emotional support to people with HIV/AIDS and those who live below the poverty line so that they can have a chance of living a healthy, safe and prosperous future.
Mr O’Brien said a lot of disadvantaged children do not go to school until organisations like Love Light Romania intervene. He is looking forward to working with adults with special needs abroad for the first time.
“Love Light Romania do a lot of work with the Roma community and adults with special needs in rural areas where poverty is quite high,” he said.
“They do a lot of different things such as working with families affected by HIV.”
His plane luggage will include 18 tennis rackets, 60 tennis balls, and two 18 foot tennis nets, which will be left
Children who will benefit from free tennis lessons range from four to 14 years of age.
Travelling abroad for his tenth “Hit and Hope” trip, he has made five trips to Greece, one to Turkey, Bosnia, Serbia and Poland last June.
“There has always been something special in all of the trips. The one in the Garczyn Camp, which is about two hours south of Gdansk in Poland involved helping an organisation called “Happy Kids Poland” who looked after children who were in orphanages in Ukraine,” he said.
“Their first job was to go into Ukraine at the start of the war and bring these orphans into Poland. Kids are fantastic and have a great way of switching off.
“Adults tend to be more traumatised than kids, because they can come into an environment where they know they are all safe and secure.
“All these children had no mothers or fathers. It was like an all-year summer camp to them.
“There was one family with six children with no parents for various reasons, ranging from five to 16. They all looked after and cared for each other.”
Before the invasion of Ukraine, their main role was looking after kids from Polish orphanages.
However, following the Ukrainian war, the charity is now focusing on evacuating Ukrainian children from Ukrainian orphanages into Poland.
It is similar to an all-year-round summer camp where the orphanages are looked after by a counsellor who ensures they get three meals a day and are well looked after with a number of activities.
Happy Kids Poland caters to about 150 orphans in the camp, the majority of whom were Ukrainian orphans, who availed of the tennis lessons, with between 20 and 25 playing tennis at different times.
There were also about 25 Polish orphans who took part in the camp.
While Mr O’Brien tried to schedule children of the same age to play at a particular time, some children just showed up and wanted to play, leaving him to adopt a more fluid programme.
Once this trip is completed, Mr O’Brien hopes to travel to a refugee camp in Bulgaria next September.
Anyone who wishes to make a donations to Wesley O’Brien charity can do so on his GoFundMe page “Hit and Hope Romania”.
The charity was set up to bring free tennis lessons and equipment to kids and youth affected by war and conflict.

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