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Making a difference in war on want

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Date Published: {J}

With the country wallowing in a depressive succession of job losses and wage cuts while half the county is submerged under a deluge of smelly water, it seems there was never a better time to leave.

And if by leaving it means you are enriching the lives of others as well as your own, then volunteering abroad might just be an option to inject a whole lot of enthusiasm into your world.

This is exactly what husband and wife team Larry Joyce and Jo Price did when they spent a year as volunteers in Uganda with the UK charity Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). Larry, an accountant, and Jo, a nurse with the Bon Secours Hospital, have just returned to their home in Galway after working in what the UN have listed as one of the world’s 25 poorest countries.

Larry worked with a local charity serving the HIV and AIDS community called Health Rights Action Group, where he taught management and organisational skills and was involved in fundraising.

Jo worked in the Kibuli Muslim Hospital in the capital Kampala as a nurse tutor and supervisor. Here, she taught student nurses and qualified staff basic hygiene practices, how to care for wounds and the best way to treat burns. She also instructed them in how to react in life or death situations.

“Conditions were very, very poor. There were lots of burns injuries, particularly in children. People here cook on open fires everywhere, only one in ten people in Kampala have electricity so people are burning candles and using kerosene lamps so children often get injured,” the Dublin native explained. VSO organised the work and the accommodation in an apartment, which Jo likens to the old Ballymun flats – except here there was often no electricity or running water. They were also the only whites in the area.

For Larry, working in a third world country was a whole new experience, but with three grown-up daughters he was at a stage in his life that he wanted to do something new and give something back. Jo, on the other hand, was a volunteering veteran, having spent a year in Sudan in 1984 with Concern, and travelled three times with the Galway charity Irish Friends of Albania, which sends surgical teams to mainly treat children with burns.

The couple raised €4,000 for charity before going. Once there, they also became involved with two local orphanages. One was the Nsambya Babies Home in Kampala, which cares for orphaned, abandoned and displaced children from birth to six years old. The second was Action to Support Orphans and Disadvantaged (ASOD), which helps up to 70 orphans, aged 13 to 18, from the slum areas by providing shelter, hygiene and medical assistance, access to education, recreational activity and guidance counselling.

Now they are home, they plan to continue to support these two charities and will be holding various events to raise the much needed funds to keep the orphanages open. The first was a table quiz organised for last night.

The couple found the experience overwhelmingly positive.

“I know there’s a lot of aid going astray, but when you get there the level of poverty is huge. In Uganda I was able to make a real difference, we felt so useful, which we don’t always feel in our normal lives,” Jo reflects.

“Ugandan people are wonderful, they have a real joy for life. It was such a fantastic experience. Also the weather – it was 26 degrees every day and hardly any rain. Larry is actively looking for a job in the development aid sector. He felt to be there hands on, you can actually help to change people’s lives.”

They plan to repeat the experience, this time in a different country where their skills will be no less valuable.They have have nothing but the height of respect for the VSO, which carries out a very thourough vetting procedure. The whole process of getting accepted onto the programme can take a year. Training is provided, where volunteers are presented with scenarios they may encounter to gauge their reaction.

Jo recalls that when she volunteered with Concern there was very little training, but then she was young and more up for the hardships of life.

One of the people working with them was a journalist from Holland, whose main task was to raise awareness of corruption and how to best deal with it.

“You do see some things that are really terrible, particularly in the medical field. Some people couldn’t cope with it. But I think it’s something everybody should do. It’s great for the older person, they have experience of life and probably get better respect out there. I found this experience a lot better now than when I was younger.”

For further information about fundraising and the VSO experience contact Larry on 0872564129 or Jo on 0877716651.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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