ARMAGH man Stevey McGeown has thanked all those who donated money to his No Shoes for Belarus challenge.
Stevey spent the month of December barefoot in order to raise money and awareness about the plight of orphans growing up in the eastern European country.
On New Year’s Eve Stevey, along with 10 other colleagues, including Armagh man, James McGrath, from the International Orphanage Development Programme (IODP) charity set off for Belarus to deliver much-needed aid to young people living in orphanages and child prisons.
Stevey had made the same trip last January and was heartened to see improvements since the team had lasted visited.
“Firstly I want to say a big thank-you to the people of Armagh who really got behind me with the No Shoes for Belarus challenge,” said Stevey.
“Between James and I we managed to collect £26,000 which shows just how generous the people of Armagh really are. On Christmas Eve we were out with the buckets and we raised over £3000 in a street collection, and on 'Black Eye Friday' we went around all the pubs and we collected another £2000.
“It really was incredible to see just how generous the people of Armagh are and we had great support from my team of Kevin Young and Vinty Firth.”
The amount Stevey and James collected was added to the team’s combined collection which saw them bring £85,000 to Belarus to spend on various items to make the lives of those young people more comfortable.
“It is incredible to think but one of the things we spent the money on was sanitary towels for woman – we actually bought 25,000 and while people may think this is a small item I can tell you it will give dignity to a lot of young woman.
“We had asked volunteers who we work with over there to organise lists of things which the orphanages need and we had asked them to get together Santa lists for the young people.
“We were in the country for seven days and I don’t think I slept too often – we were continually working when we were there, making sure the money we raised was spent in the most effective way possible.
“For example last year when I went to a children’s prison all they had in the entire prison for entertainment were two draughts boards. We bought them a pool table along with ice hockey sticks which has made such a difference.”
The group met a young man called Roman who had been in one of the orphanages last year however he is now the age when he has to move out. They managed to track him down at a centre for adults and were able to buy him some items to make his time at the centre more comfortable.
Other items the group bought included couches, medical supplies, shoes for children, hardware and boilers to heat buildings during the harsh winters. They also bought books on business start-ups and social skills to help the young people currently in prison.
“To all those people who donated money, I can honestly say it was well spent by the team,” said Stevey.
“The people of Armagh have made a major difference to the lives of these young people.
“For me the whole experience was very humbling – to see the generosity of local people and then to have the chance to make a difference to the lives of these young people is something I will never forget.
“It also makes me appreciate everything I have in my life – I certainly won’t take the nice things in my life for granted.”
During his time visiting the child prison, Stevey, a well known motivational speaker at home, spoke to the young people currently serving sentences there.
“These young people rarely get a chance to feel inspired or good about themselves so I spoke about future prospects and to let them see that they could have a brighter future. It is a message not many of them have often heard.”
Stevey, who is now a Director with IODP, says the work in Belarus will be ongoing.
“The charity has been coming here for 20 years and you can really see big differences, this is not about throwing money down a black hole but instead the work is making a real difference.”