Mayo woman helps 500 special needs children in quake crisis

Gena Heraty (left) and fellow volunteer Maeve Bracken, both of whom escaped unhurt in Haiti. Photograph: Viatores Christi/PA

Gena Heraty (left) and fellow volunteer Maeve Bracken, both of whom escaped unhurt in Haiti. Photograph: Viatores Christi/PA


IRISH VOLUNTEERS:MAYO WOMAN Gena Heraty (39) spent yesterday trying to persuade staff and children at the orphanage where she works in Haiti to sleep inside.

It is at Kenscoff, on a hillside about 10km from Port-au-Prince. Yesterday they found the body of an American colleague, Molly, in the rubble. Molly had helped to build the swimming pool for special-needs children.

Heraty was “heartbroken” at her death. Like Molly was, she is a volunteer with Nos Petits Frères et Soeur (Our Little Brothers and Sisters), a French charity.

Heraty has spent 16 years working with abandoned children in Haiti and runs the special needs home for 32 abandoned children with physical and mental disabilities in the orphanage at Kenscoff.

It accommodates about 500 children altogether.

She had been at a hospital in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. It was “utter chaos . . . and then the awful job of digging with bare hands looking for colleagues. We pulled one free after 12 hours alive, and two died.”

She spend most of Thursday helping volunteer Erin get back to the US with the body of Erin’s brother. He was crushed when a building collapsed. Erin was dug out.

At her orphanage yesterday, Heraty said: “You could smell the fear, they were so glad to have me home.” They (staff and children) “were heading outside to the fields, with their blankets to stay another night in the open – in wheelchairs with crippled and twisted bodies, their eyes wide with fear. I felt a huge responsibility making the decision that they were all sleeping inside tonight. Some of them would not survive the cold and damp nights on the hillside.”

She had a difficult time persuading them to stay inside.

“I told them that if there was going to be a tremor it could just as well happen during the day when they were inside and anyway that if the tremor did not kill them, then pneumonia would.”

In Mayo some years ago, a special fund was set up through which money goes directly to the children for whom Heraty cares.

The account number of the Gena Heraty Haiti Fund at AIB Westport is 11108008, sort code 93-71-69. Asked yesterday what people might do to help, she said: “Pray and donate whatever you can, no matter how small.”