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Galway siblings help Cambodian village to build new school



“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela.

Last year, my brother Christopher and I traveled to Cambodia for the first time, where we volunteered with Children with Hope for Development (CHD), a grassroots NGO that is bringing a high standard of education to over 200 children living in one of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged regions, Takeo Province.


Despite their lack of funding, CHD was running three English classes a day as well as a French class and a Maths class for students aged between four and 12. In addition, the school, consisting of four Cambodian teachers and on average between two to four volunteers at a time, was attempting to aid the region’s bright and enthusiastic children in breaking out of the continuous cycle of poverty that they have been born into.

On arrival in Po Village, Christopher and I assisted in launching their first IT class which also attracted older students, giving them a first opportunity to become familiar with a computer, a vital skill in progressing to university or in securing a job in more developed areas of Cambodia.

The IT class was taught on second hand computers in a dark shed with no lights or even a fan, amplifying the average temperature of 30 degrees in Takeo. The conditions were overwhelmingly basic, with lizards and other creatures constantly disrupting teachings.

In 2014, our fundraising efforts in our local community of Craughwell were extremely successful thanks to generous friends and family. matched our original total of $3,000 in order to bring our final donation to $6,000, the sum needed to completely finance the school’s first concrete building.

A fortnight ago, I had the chance to travel back to Takeo for the opening ceremony of the two new classrooms, an incredible event in which the students, parents, teachers, volunteers, village leaders and local monks attended.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Everyone celebrated together, eating, drinking and dancing for hours. I don’t think I have ever experienced such happiness amongst a group of people in one day, with every child smiling and dancing until it was time to go home.

The new building was blessed and everyone said thank you for their great fortune, as the new classrooms are something that most could never have possibly imagined being built in their local community, where the majority of houses are yet to have running water or electricity.

The future is bright for CHD and their growing number of students, as the children’s level of English is improving dramatically and their eyes are being opened to a life outside of the rice fields where people have enough money to eat three meals a day, to have more than one set of clothing and to have showers with hot water.

Furthermore, the organisation now has a big plan in order to become sustainable, so that they no longer need to rely on donations from around the world.

They are going to build accommodation for the volunteers to stay in, which not only means there will no longer be a need for volunteers to cycle 20km a day in the blistering heat, but also that the income generated from food and board will go towards covering all of the NGO’s costs.

CHD also plans to start a small farm, selling eggs and other products in the local village. The transition from an organisation that relies on others for support to a social enterprise will give CHD the freedom to grow and expand at a much faster rate, with the hope that they will someday have the standard of education that we are fortunate to benefit from in Ireland.

If you’d like to make a donation to CHD to help them reach sustainability, you can do so online: or at and see blog/category/cambodia-school-building-appeal.

For anyone interested in volunteering with CHD in the future, send an email to and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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