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The Rose of Tralee, Charmaine Kenny visits Chernobyl

Monday, 8 February 2010

The current Rose of Tralee joins us to talk about her recent visit to Belarus to help the children of Chernobyl

Charmaine Kenny, the current Rose of Tralee

CHARMAINE KENNY - Rose of Tralee 2009 Charmaine finished working as a management consultant prior to representing London at the Rose of Tralee International Festival this August. After being crowed the Rose of Tralee Charmaine opted to take the year out to concentrate on Rose of Tralee duties. She continues to fulfill her ambition of becoming an entrepreneur and plans to explore various business ideas following her year as Rose of Tralee.

The 27-year old has a degree in Management Science & Information System Studies and a masters in Economics, both from Trinity College, Dublin, where she is also an elected Scholar. She enjoys the outdoors and scaled Mount Kilimanjaro last year. She is an avid runner and has completed many marathons.

She is involved with a number of Irish charities including Chernobyl Childrens Project, Suas and VSO and has spent time recently in Belarus with Chernobyl and volunteering in Malawi with VSO. Her other passion is travelling, and one of her favourite trips was three months in Japan working as a weather presenter prior to Rose of Tralee. Charmaine was born in Co Kildare and is currently residing with her parents for the duration of her reign as Rose of Tralee.

Following the experience of Celebrating 50 Years of the Rose of Tralee International Festival this August, Charmaine has spent a very busy past four months including visits to a large number of National Schools all around the country and numerous community initiatives along with many local charity fundraising events.

Wearing her entrepreneurial hat Charmaine was guest speaker at Blue Sky Day (Young Entrepreneur Promotion) to over 500 leaving cert students, along with CEO of Stockbyte Jerry Kennelly, FEXCO Vice Chairman Dick Spring, Chief Executive of Kerry Group Stan McCarthy and more. She also attended the Trinity Alumni Awards evening to lend her support and spoke to a number of students there.

Charmaine was also hosted by Paddy Power to present prizes at the Gold Cup in Cheltenham during November. Charmaine was guest of honour at Aras an Uachtarian and thoroughly enjoyed her meeting with President Mary McAleese, who she met up with again shortly after at Ploughing Championships in Athy. Charmaine was honoured with a Civic Reception in Athy where she was paraded through the town on a Rose of Tralee float surrounded by children and a Garda Escort! Being a avid runner she has ran many Marathons including Dublin City Marathon in 2009.

Charmaine attended the Taoiseach's Ball in December before spending Christmas at home in Athy with her family.

Charmiane, tell us about your recent trip to Belarus?

I was over there for four to five days ( a few weeks ago) with Chernobyl Children's Project International (CCPI) founder and campaigner Adi Roche to visit mental asylums, hospitals orphanages and foster homes all linked to the children of Chernobyl... The life-saving projects I visited this week opened my eyes and my heart to the many children who benefit from the work of CCPI and the selfless work of the volunteers make a huge difference to these children's lives

Can you tell us about some of the case studies that you saw out there?

I had no real sense of the impact Chernobyl has had on the people of Belarus until I went there. A lot of the lot of the children that we saw have hydrocephalus with enlarged head limbs and arms, cleft pallets and other serious medical conditions. As result of neglect - they ended up in these places like orphanages because there people didn't want to care for them.

We have an image here of Sasha, who is with her dad in their flat in Gomel, Belarus?

Sasha has had a really tough life, but she is getting great care from her dad. Her dad cares for her daily and Sasha needs all this care, the only time that her dad cannot care for her is in the evening when he has to go to work.

What is sad about this, is that Sasha, had she got medical treatment, then this could have been preventable?

Yes, if she had gotten treatment which would have cost €200, it would have been enough to drain the fluid from her head.. Sasha also gets sores on her head by the weight of it..
Her head weighs 6kg and her dad nurses her every day. Her dad got enlarged muscles in his arm from the way he has been nursing her.

Dasha is in one of the successful programmes that the CCPI are involved in, a home called the 'Home of Hope'?

Yes, we visited the 'Home of Hope', where you can see Dasha, in Glusk, which is part of one of CCPI's most successful programmes - the De-institutionalisation Programme. This programme places up to 10 abandoned or orphaned children into small foster homes. CCPI is at the forefront of developing deinstitutionalisation networks and programmes in Belarus. As children best thrive in a home environment. These homes help children who have spent their childhood in orphanages, refuges and institutions.

What about the mental asylums that you saw?

We visited Vesnova Children's Mental Asylum, which is home to over 140 children with various forms of physical and mental disability.
A lot of the children that are there probably would have been fine if they had gotten the medical attention that they needed. What I found was that it looked like a lot of the children were autistic and you think they would have been fine if they had been cared for somewhere else.. and it seemed that there was no need for them to be in a mental asylum

A lot of people in that country would not know that they exist (the mental asylums), and the media have not highlighted many of the issues because of 20 years of state control television. There was a television journalist there making a documentary on this, and he seemed afraid go into the asylum, I didn't know why he was afraid to go into the asylum

What was especially shocking what the mental asylums are literally built on roads to nowhere and it seems that people do not realise or acknowledge their existence. Even calling them mental asylums is harrowing.

What kind of support does the CCPI provide for these children and how does it help?

The CCPI has supplied humanitarian and medical aid to Vesnova (the mental asylum) for eight years. They (the CCPI) refurbished the building to improve living conditions. Medical and nursing teams visit the home every month, the whole aim of their work is to take the children away from the orphanages that they were in and provide homes for them.

Did you choose to work with this charity yourself Charmaine, or has it been chosen for you by the Rose of Tralee Festival?

The rose of Tralee has chooses as their charity partner this year, and I was delighted that this charity was selected.

You also feel that more support is need for the children of Chrenobyl?

Yes, Irish people associated the image of Chernobyl children with happy Christmas visits to Ireland but support is needed all year and not just occasionally

Is it true that your Boyfriend entered you in the Rose of Tralee competition?

Yes, this that is true.. It was his idea he kept saying that I would be a great Rose and he entered me in the competition. I suppose I don't really regret that fact that he did.

What have you coming up for the rest of the year as Rose of Tralee?

I have a very busy rest of year coming up. I will be involved in the recruitment of the next year's Rose of Tralee contestants, I will also be in London for the weekend before St Patrick's Day, as that is when it gets celebrated there.. I will then be in Washington for St Patrick's Day.. I will also be doing work the Suas charity, an Irish NGO that supports education in India

Charmaine will return to Kolkata, India in late February with Suas an Irish NGO, with whom she previously volunteered. Suas is an Irish NGO that supports education in India, as well as Ireland and Kenya. Charmaine will tell us all about her trip on the show on 3rd March. In India she will visit projects that aim to empower women and children in under resourced communities in Kolkata. She will also be speaking about the Suas St. Patrick's Day Appeal which is aiming to raise €40,000 for these initiatives. Charmaine, as a prospective entrepreneur with a heart, visiting initiatives aimed at empowering women through training and education might connect well with the Afternoon Show audience.