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Update on Ukraine project in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland

by - Jennifer Jones
In April, I had an opportunity to assist and connect First United Methodist Church with the efforts of the Ballyvaughan Community Group, which was the first group to support and help with the folks who found their way to their small Irish village of less than 300 locals.  By mid-April, just weeks after the war in Ukraine began, all County Clare was hosting about 2000 Ukrainian refugees, and the Burren Atlantic Hotel in Ballyvaughan housed almost 250 folks (mostly women, children, and teenagers).  As of the end of April, Ireland’s population grew to about 40,000 Ukrainian refugees, most of whom were housed in hotels, guest houses, and family homes around the country.  Most of the displaced folks have arrived via Rosslare, a ferry port southeast of Dublin, from France. The Irish government said “Come,” and about 20,000 did in the first two weeks of the start of the conflict.

Our FUMC Ukrainian project began before I left the US when I learned that the Ukrainian guests could use bicycle helmets for children and adults in addition to my 50 lb suitcase plus about 8 lbs of another one full of women’s clothes.  After one email to our FUMC Faith in Action ministry team, word spread and soon they, along with two Sunday School classes, had donated over $1400 and 100 prayer bracelets to the cause!
On arrival at the Shannon airport, I received a message that water beakers (bottles) and school lunch boxes (divided plastic storage containers) were needed immediately.  In Ennis, the only “larger” town before Ballyvaughan, I stopped at Dunnes (much like a very small Target) for those items and then made way to Tierney’s Bike Shop on Convent Street for the 10 child and 10 adult bike helmets. With all of the luggage and newly purchased gear, the car was LOADED.

The next stop was The Burren Atlantic Hotel in Ballyvaughan, where I met a very nice young Ukrainian woman, one of only 5-6 who who spoke English.  She helped unload and organize the items for the hotel receptionist who coordinated everything there.  In the hotel’s main gathering room, older children and younger adults were mostly working on studies, although there were some toddlers playing on hobby horse-type toys.  I saw some very young babies and elderly women and men as well; later that evening, I was able to meet and talk with two Ukrainian gentlemen.  While I hoped to talk more with folks, it was more appropriate to allow them personal space.  There was and remains a huge need for prayers as they have been through so much; there is growing concern about their emotional and mental well-being, especially as the reports of the conflict and atrocities reach them.
During my visit to the hotel, I met Jenny, my contact with the Ballyvaughan Community Group, who mentioned that they would like to construct raised bed gardens at the hotel but lacked the funds to begin the project.  In faith, they had already placed the materials order at a local supply company in hopes that they could construct the beds in time for spring or summer planting. 

My thoughts went immediately to FUMC’s Share and Serve Garden.  Some of you may know of the Franklin First United Methodist Church efforts these last five years to “Dare to Trust, Love, Share and Serve,” and during that time our congregation committed to emphasizing projects that focused on hunger issues.  Whether it is helping out our local Carenet food pantry; fasting, learning about hunger across the world, or collecting cans and money for the 30 Hour Famine (for 25+ years); providing meals for the hungry; or planting a community garden to share with Carenet and our local neighbors— we have stepped out in faith to bless others with our bounty.

So, I volunteered the remaining FUMC funds for this project and traveled to John O’Donnell’s Hardware Store in Kinvara, a little town 20 kilometers away, to purchase the tools, seeds, compost, fixings, and timber needed for the project.   Miraculously, I had just enough remaining contributions to pay the materials invoices and delivery was arranged for the following week.
This new Ukrainian garden is a wonderful extension of the FUMC initiatives we began in earnest several years ago, and it is a beautiful way we can connect to our worldwide neighbors in need on a personal basis, providing nourishment for the belly as well as the soul.  In the next few months, I will receive photos of the project as it develops, and we pray it will be a blessing and connection for both the givers and the recipients as it helps the new residents to settle and have a therapeutic way to work and be helpful.
I offer my sincere thanks to all who prayed for and contributed almost $1500 in materials and items for Ukrainian refugees who relocated to County Clare in Ireland as they fled the conflict in their home country.  God does continue to work for good in the world, providing answers to prayers in unexpected ways.  At this time, County Clare has a coordinated effort among the towns of Ballyvaughan, Lisdoonvarna, and Kilrush.  Efforts and needs are ongoing, so contributions to the North Clare Community Welcome Group are welcome. 
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