A Galway woman who spearheaded a fundraising drive for the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal visited the country recently to distribute aid.
Brid Gavin O’Connell, who is from Moycullen and is a data manager with University Hospital Galway’s cancer services, had visited the country in South Central Asia twice on holiday previously. She fell in love with the place and made good friends there.
“The country and the people there reminded me of what life was like when I was growing up myself. They live a simple life with family at the centre of everything. I was struck by how friendly people are, I got such a warm welcome. They respect foreigners and really treat you well. They touched my heart in a way no-one else did before with their emphasis on family values. On a personal level I came home feeling loved and valued.
“I could not recommend Nepal enough. What is important in life is connectedness. The first time I went there three years ago I stayed five weeks. Then I went again two years ago. When the earthquake hit it really upset me. My friends there were not too badly affected but they had to sleep out in tents for a month. But I knew there were people suffering in other areas and I thought I must do something.”
Brid, who had done some voluntary work with Foundation Nepal in Galway in the past, decided to help the Irish Red Cross with its Nepal fundraising campaign. She did a church gate collection in Moycullen which raised €1,800.
“Then I thought about having a coffee morning in UHG in May. I approached management and thankfully got the go-ahead. I got a team involved and we contacted local bakeries. Businesses across from the hospital donated raffle prizes and cakes. The event was held in the hospital’s restaurant. Aramack Catering, which runs it, were very helpful and supportive and on the morning of the fundraiser donated a lot of stuff and gave us the coffee. I brought along some of my Nepalese friends on the day.
“I was really touched by how generous people were. Some came to the coffee morning and handed in envelopes with donations. One or two gave €100. I left collection boxes in the canteen and the shop and offices for a week after the fundraiser.”
The event raised €4,500 which was converted to 507,000 Nepalese rupees. Brid visited Nepal in November to distribute the aid. The money was used to help 86 families in four remote villages in the Dare chowk district of Chitwan in Nepal.
She liaised with a local lions club (Lions Club of Chitwan Sauraha ) who helped to arrange the distribution of the relief.
“My friends out there put me in touch with the Lions Club - I had specified that I wanted the relief to go to people in remote areas. I felt the people in the main areas had been supported. We bought two blankets and a solar light for each of the families. They were purchased at wholesale rates from local suppliers and with the support of the Lions Club, four Jeeps carrying the supplies and a team of volunteers set off early one morning to deliver the aid. The local county council also supported us by providing a list of all the families in each village and ticking them off the lists as the families received the supplies. This way we ensured that every family received support and all were treated equally. We also gave a lucky bag of little treats to the children in the villages as well to those in a school we visited. These were handed out by my Nepalese friend Austina (aged 13 ) who took time out from school to help give them to the children.
“The people in these villages had lost everything, their homes were flattened, they now live in temporary accommodation made from galvanised sheets and bamboo. These consist of one small room where all the family live, eat, sleep and cook. They have no gas or electricity so they are living in extremely difficult conditions. They really need any and all the support we can give. Winter had just started when we visited and it gets very cold in these high altitude regions, hence the decision to give blankets. They have no gas or electricity and it gets dark very early this is why the solar lights were chosen.”
She says she explained to them how the funds were raised and assured them that the staff at University College Hospital Galway in Ireland cared about them.
“They were extremely grateful and touched that a ‘foreigner’ came and delivered the support personally. I genuinely felt honoured and proud to represent the staff of our hospital and again I want to express my deepest gratitude to the team who helped organise the coffee morning, to hospital management, Aramack Catering and to the staff and members of the public who contributed. I also wish to thank my Nepalese friends for their advice and support in helping me make contact with the Lions club in Nepal who were delighted to collaborate with us to get the relief to those who needed it most. The whole programme was a wonderful example of what can be achieved when people work together.
“It was a very moving and inspiring experience to visit these villages. We travelled as a team of 20 in four jeeps which included a TV crew, representatives from four local newspapers, members of the county council and Lions Club and myself and my Nepalese friends. We held a minute’s silence and sang the Nepalese national anthem ( I tried to mime along! ) as a mark of respect for the victims. It was the most special thing I ever did in my life. I felt really proud of my hospital and very privileged to be able to go and meet these people firsthand.”