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One of the outstanding and special things about Irish people, which warmed my heart the quickest and made me admire and respect them most intensively is their often mentioned charitableness. And in reality it’s no mere stereotype, it is actually very true. As they quoted in the Irish Times in 2013, even in the times of crises the number of registered volunteers with Volunteer Ireland has doubled to 14.800 since 2008. All these volunteers, plus the un-registered ones help at around 8000 registered volunteer organisations, and, in my eyes, they are doing something incredibly good and beautiful.

Right at the beginning of my stay here I’ve acquainted myself with the concept of the bake sale at my University, because baking a tonne of scrumptious pastries and sweets and then selling pieces for 50cents (or any amount one can part with, of course it might be more!) is the easiest way to earn some money – of course always with a reason, for a charity organisation or event.

From door to door

All kinds of volunteers collect by going from door to door as well, they ring your bell and ask for a donation. What is interesting and what seems to work best to is their reciprocal concept of charity – donate and we will do something in return. For example, on St Patrick’s Day volunteers for Suas (working for improving and developing education in Ireland and third world countries) stuck shamrock tattoos or painted them on donator’s faces.  Another good example would be the hike on Croagh Patrick that the NUIM Rovers club did in return for donations towards SOSAD, an organisation providing relief to victim’s families and raising awareness about suicide – and we did it barefoot! Yes, the 9 of us, a true Fellowship, overcame the more than 700m tall giant of a hill bare feet and altogether raised almost 700€. Charity has been spreading online as well, after a very distasteful viral nekking game, where people nominated other people to down a pint in a single gulp, it’s now popular to nominate Facebook friends to take selfies without (or in the case of men, with!) make-up and donate 4€ for cancer research via text.

Cycling with added value

What pleasantly surprises me even more is that it’s not just the adults that are charitable, so are students. NUIM students for charity has been a staple thing for a very long time, they’ve been organising one of the biggest charity events in these parts for the past 27 years – the Galway Cycle. In short that entails around 200, 300 cyclists, who gather on Friday and cycle the whole 200km from Maynooth to Galway and back on Sunday. They have a big crew, retinue, entourage, whatever you name it, to go with them – Marshalls to watch over the caravan of cyclists, an ambulance, Gardaí on motorcycles, vans with spare bicycle parts, vans with food, and more. The most fun part of the entourage is the bus full of collectors, which was also the point from where I was participating this year. Our mission was mostly that every time we passed the caravan, we attacked the bus windows viciously so the cyclists could see and hear us screaming encouraging woo-hoo’s. Every once in a while we stopped and went out shouting, whistling and clapping for the cyclists whizzing by. Of course our essential task was collecting, so we stopped in some towns that were on our way and tried to get our buckets ringing with spare change or a sparse fiver. The best experience was on Saturday in Galway, where the cyclists were alongside us to help boost our claim – if you can show off someone who just cycled 200km for charity, it’s that much easier to get that elusive coin out of passers-by. Every year the students pick a different organisation to raise funds for, this year it was The Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Ireland. It’s a small organisation, operating on a voluntary basis and without employees, which strives for spreading awareness and funding new research into this disease.

A rare genetic defect

You probably haven’t heard of this syndrome yet, and it is likely because it is extremely rare. It usually causes bad muscle tone, incomplete sexual development, cognitive disability, problematic behaviour and a chronic sense of hunger, which can lead to overeating and life-threatening obesity. There are around 100 affected in Ireland, a small number when you look at it, but considering how little the experts in medicine know about it, informing each individual about it counts. At the Cycle, there were several families with affected children, which gave us the feeling that we’re really doing something worthwhile, which will benefit somebody in the end – we could then, apply names and faces to these previously unknown somebodies. The whole weekend was overflowing with an amazing atmosphere of well-being, fun and… doing something rewardingly good. What struck me as the most amazing was the fact, how much people really give, no matter if it’s their time, work, money or anything else. And not just individuals, different businesses, restaurants and pubs… In Galway, all the cyclists and the support team had free dinner at a pub, the same when they finally made it back to Maynooth. All the breakfast grub, soft drinks and snacks we had along the way was made from donated food by a petrol station chain. Other establishments like the GAA club in Ballinasloe and certain restaurants also offered their space and food. Isn’t it wonderful how so many people and businesses come together and donates for something they really believe in? I wish we could have something like that back home…

Rory, Emma and Henry

A young family that would be perfect, if it weren’t for PWS. Henry was born in July of 2012 and diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome a week after birth. All they got from the doctor was a website address. No leaflets, no information, the doctors couldn’t tell them anything. Completely lost at the beginning they soon found other families with children affected by this genetic defect and slowly started walking their thorny path with a more confident stride. Emma Walsh (28) is a fitness instructor, her significant other Rory Tierney (31) is a manager at Tesco’s. Rory cycled and Emma followed him in a car with Henry in her lap, their whole extended families also participating in the Cycle, as collectors, supporters or under various roles in the entourage. Now the family acts as a kind of front faces of the PWSAI, they’re just so lovely, all of them with their big sunny smiles! The parents say that hearing how their story about overcoming obstacles helped another young family in a similar distressful situation is the thing that makes them the happiest. On Saturday night, when it was speech time, they both thanked us all, voices shaking and tears in their eyes, promising they’ll stay strong for all the families that will follow in their path. And us with them!

Article by Jasna Rajnar Petrovic

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Maynooth Students for Charity nominate Prader-Willi Syndrome as recipient cause (Leinster Leader, 31 October 2013)

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More to follow.