Kildare woman volunteering in Haiti thanks fundraising campaign at home

Help: Donations of clothes and shoes are helping Haitian children return to school

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Kildare woman volunteering in Haiti thanks fundraising campaign at home

Tracy Keogh and her NPH colleague Annabella Pierre distribute hand-knitted teddies at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Port-au-Prince

Tracy Keogh of Naas, a long-time employee of Kildare County Council, last year took a career break to work with a charity called NPH International in the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This charity operates homes, healthcare campuses and educational facilities for hundreds of children, many of whom have been abandoned by their families due to disability. Tracy has written here for the Leinster Leader an account of her work in the region, and of how Kildare people are helping to bring aid to those in need in Haiti.

NPH is a children’s charity that has been in Haiti for 30 years, addressing the needs of the poor, raising children in loving environments and developing future leaders.

It’s a loyal friend and good neighbour to the people of Haiti, many of whom live in extreme poverty and survive on less than $2 a day.

I have worked with NPH in Haiti for over a year now, having taken a career break from Kildare County Council to do so.

I work in funding and communications in Port-au-Prince where NPH runs schools, hospitals and a rehabilitation centre for patients with neurological conditions.

NPH also runs a residential facility called St. Hélène in the mountains above Port-au-Prince. Over 300 children live there.

Some of these children are orphans, some have been abandoned and some have special needs.

They live in group homes and have most of the facilities they need on site; a school, a library, a medical clinic — even a barber for the boys.

St. Hélène is a happy place, although the children there have very little compared to the children I know at home. I’ve learned many lessons from them about living simply and joyfully.

St. Hélène was an even happier place than usual recently with the arrival of a very special delivery from Kildare.

My family, friends and work colleagues have been extremely supportive of my work here since I decided to volunteer.

Kildare County Council, Kildare Sports Partnership and Newbridge Gospel Choir raised over €5,000 for NPH prior to my departure. That fundraising effort has continued with the establishment of a new group called the Kildare Friends of Haiti at Āras Chill Dara.

Goods are collected from Kildare County Council for shipping to Haiti. Pictured are Ann Dooley, Christina Loughlin, Ciara Gallagher, Anita Power and Maeve Lonergan of Kildare Friends of Haiti and Kieran Tansey of ESPWA Haiti

The 10-member committee has worked very hard to raise an additional €3,000 in cash, including large donations from groups like Monasterevin Lions Club.

They have also coaxed very generous contributions of stock from a number of well-known Irish companies.

With over 300 children on site at St. Hélène, back-to-school expenses are always a big challenge for NPH. The climate there is cold and damp due to its high altitude location.

This climate is not typical for Haiti so it can be difficult to source warm uniforms and good quality leather shoes that can be repaired and handed down.

The back-to-school challenge was met this year by Deer Park Knitwear Ltd. in Monasterevin and Dubarry Ireland who donated 300 school jumpers and 300 pairs of shoes respectively.

Whelans Shoes in Naas gave a significant discount on products purchased in their store and many others contributed cash to the fund.

Every family wants their child to look smart on back-to-school day. The NPH family achieved that this year, with the help of these kind supporters.

Jumpers and shoes were accompanied by hundreds of hand-knitted teddies donated by local knitters and knitting groups including Newbridge Library Knitters and Laois Teddies for Tragedies.

This craft collective was co-ordinated by retired Kildare County Council employee Mary Ryan.

There was also some sports gear from Kildare Sports Partnership. All goods were transported to Haiti in shipping containers paid for by a group called ESPWA Haiti.

Distributing colourful toys to sick children at an NPH Paediatric Hospital in the city and sports gear at an NPH life skills workshop made for some of the happiest days of my working career.

The size and impact of these donations really is staggering; by the end of 2017 at least €20,000 worth of goods will have crossed the sea to us in a huge wave of goodwill.

It’s hard to describe the excitement here in Port-au-Prince when these shipments arrive.

It means a great deal to our staff and beneficiaries to know that people overseas are thinking of them and sending practical support.

Children at the NPH orphanage in Haiti in their Kildare Sports Partnership jerseys

The Kildare Friends of Haiti are currently fundraising for warm winter pyjamas for the children at St. Hélène.

Every cent donated goes directly to items that are urgently needed in Haiti with no deductions for overheads or transport costs.

If you would like to learn more or make a contribution, please contact Ciara Gallagher at cgallagher@kildarecoco.ie.

I would like to pass on my most sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in this massive local effort. It’s amazing to see a new network forming, almost by accident, but with such positive potential.

The Kildare Friends of Haiti think globally and act locally.

I’m very proud to be associated with this kind of giving.