Invited to Hyderabad by the relations of the Air India plane crash victims, Angela Muckley never expected the visit to have such a profound effect on her, she tells Siobhán Cronin
A LOCAL community is coming together to help fundraise for a school for mentally and physically challenged children in India – as a direct result of links forged after the Air India disaster in 1985.
Bantry students and local business people didn’t hesitate when they were asked recently to organise an event to support a fund for the disadvantaged school for the children in Hyderabad.
The idea came about as a result of the ongoing relationship between the people of West Cork and India following the Air India plane crash three miles off the Irish coast in 1985. Over 300 people – including 80 children – perished in the attack, which was caused by a bomb on board.
Local woman Angela Muckley was invited to visit some of relatives of the Air India disaster victims this year, organised by the family of Narayana Turlapati, who lost his two sons in the plane crash.
Businessman Narayana and his wife Padmini have been coming to Bantry every year since 1985 to visit the memorial site at Ahakista on Sheep’s Head, which last year commemorated the 30th anniversary.
Skibbereen native Angela, who worked in tourism promotion through Bord Fáilte and Aer Lingus for many years, has hosted an annual dinner for the Indian guests at her Bantry home, resulting in the forging of very strong friendships between the people of both countries.
During Angela’s first visit to India earlier this year, Narayana brought her to see the Adharana school near Hyderabad, a rehabilitation school for children which he supports with financial assistance.
The visit had a huge effect on Angela, as she saw the stark conditions and poor facilities the voluntary staff are dealing with every day.
With very little money, the school – though a registered charity, gets no State funding – has to rely on donations like Narayana’s to keep going.
The pupils learn how to make small crafts to sell, to help keep the school open. The painted pictures and little notelettes are made with love and attention to detail by the students, some of them street children, many of them orphans.
Some of these children have been abandoned by their families because of their mental and physical disabilities – but here they are encouraged to study and learn skills and social interaction techniques. They are also given speech and physiotherapy by the totally volunteer staff.
‘It was an experience never to be forgotten,’ Angela, a grandmother, told The Southern Star. ‘These wonderful children have nothing. Some of them are severely deformed and physically challenged, but all of them were so warm to us, and always smiling. It is hard to watch when you see all the benefits and possessions that our children here in Ireland have, in comparison. The staff there also have to be commended for donating their time to these children. It was lovely to see the strong bonds between them.’
She was particularly taken with a delightful brother and sister who, though deaf and dumb, performed a dance routine for the visitors – taught to them by the wonderfully committed staff. ‘They had learned how to dance by watching their teacher. They were so gorgeous, and constantly smiling. They seemed thrilled to be able to perform for us,’ she recalled.
When she returned to Bantry, Angela felt a duty to fundraise to help the children, and try and improve their equipment and facilities.
Narayana estimates that €3,000 would provide an extra meal for the children for a year. At the moment, they can only afford to give them one meal a day. It would also help to get extra equipment – the school has only one exercise bike, one physiotherapy table, and one toilet for up to 60 children. Their one ‘shower’ consists of two taps with a large bucket and small jug.
Angela felt it was fitting that the students of Bantry’s Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí were the first to come on board with the fundraising project. Narayana is one of the sponsors of the annual Air India Scholarship Awards at the school, whereby two students every year get a financial contribution towards their further studies.
The school recently held a film day at the local cinema for students, with all the money going to the fund. The free use of the cinema was generously provided by Cinemax Bantry owner Stephen Keohane and John Cremin provided his Cremin’s Coaches free of charge to ferry the children to the movie.
It is hoped that this is just the first of a number of events held in Bantry for Adharana, including a possible fundraiser to be hosted by the Bantry Lions Club.
Angela says she is thrilled with the response of the local people, especially the enthusiastic reaction she received straight away from Claire Russell and the staff and pupils of Coláiste Pobail.
She says she is encouraged by the knowledge that all money raised will go directly to the school for much-need items and food.
An account will soon be available at Bantry Credit Union for donations.
In the meantime, Angela is hoping to get other offers of fundraising ideas. She can be contacted at 087 2252901 or email [email protected]