Congratulations to Viatores Christi Volunteer Gena Heraty on receiving this year’s Leinster House Human Dignity Award. Ms. Heraty has dedicated her life for 23 Years to the children of Haiti through her work with the Our Little Brothers and Sisters (NPH) orphanage. Ceann Comhairle, Seán Fearghail TD, presented the award to Ms. Heraty at a ceremony in Leinster House.
“I am convinced that there is no other place in the world I can do more to help those who are most in need of help right now,” she told an RTÉ documentary in December 2008, “if I can improve the life of just one child each day I am here then my life will have been worthwhile.”
Paying tribute to Ms. Heraty, the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Fearghail TD, said that “Ms. Heraty was continuing a great tradition of Irish missionary and humanitarian work overseas. Gena Heraty represents the best of Ireland. She has given 23 years of love and care to the special children of Haiti. She reminds us that, whatever the world’s problems, ordinary people can become extraordinary by doing great things for others.”
The award, now in its third year, is presented annually by the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group to a person whose commitment to the promotion of human dignity has been exemplary. Ms. Heraty, from Westport, is a member of the Catholic lay missionary association, Viatores Christi. She went to Haiti in 1993 and has remained there ever since as a volunteer with NPH (Our Little Brothers and Sisters); an orphanage in the hillside village of Kenscoff, 10 km from Port-au-Prince.
After graduating from the University of Limerick with a degree in Business Studies in 1991, Gena joined Viatores Christi, a lay missionary association based in Dublin, and began working as a volunteer with the Simon Community. Through a friend she was introduced to Our Little Brothers and Sisters (NPH/NPFS) charity. She began working in the Special Needs Unit of its children’s orphanage in Haiti, later becoming its Director. Throughout her time in Haiti, Gena has worked to develop the Special Needs Programme, providing new opportunities for about 30 children and young people. She has also developed an outreach programme to provide medical, rehabilitation and educational support for over 100 families in the community where children have severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities.
There are over 300 children living in the orphanage, and one home for 30 – 40 children who are disabled with special needs. Generally in Haiti, children with special needs are abandoned at hospitals. They are not abandoned because their mothers do not love them. They are abandoned because their mother does not have the means to take care of them. A lot of these children with special needs have epilepsy, and they can’t afford to buy the drugs for them. These children need physical therapy but there’s no access or place for physical therapy.