Debbie Deegan’s 1200 children

For an ordinary Irish woman, Debbie Deegan, the orphanage in the village of Khortolevo, near Bryansk, became a second home, and Russia, indeed, her second homeland…

In 1998 Debbie already had two of her own children, but as participants in the Russian State programme “Children of Chernobyl” her family, among many other Irish families, were willing to take a child from the Khortolevo orphanage into their home for time.  After that, she founded a charity called To Russia with Love, in order to help other orphans from the Bryansk region.

The Irish heartily responded to a television address made by Debbie and provided all possible assistance to her charitable program, raising awareness of Chernobyl throughout the world. The road to Bryansk was not short, and dozens of boxes and boxes of clothes, toys and sweets were carefully packaged, safeguarded for passage to children affected by the nuclear disaster. When Debbie saw the conditions in which Bryansk orphans were living, she was shocked. Pitiful tears shed on the trip home turned into anger at the system and the ‘naïve’ Debbie began to fight. She fought for the Russian seven-year-old girl, whom she brought into her family with a number of other children and who was seriously ill. She simply refused to return Zina to the orphanage and, doing so, she broke the law, but she eventually prevailed over the authorities.  Debbie led officials in Ireland and Russia to shorten the timeframe for adoption of the sick girl from 4 years to one year. She did not stop there and the fight continued for other children in the orphanage, to create humane living conditions for all of them, to warm their hearts with love and bring more light and joy into their lives. For her, Bryansk held no closed doors.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – NOVEMBER 4, 2018: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and Debbie Deagan, Board Chairperson of the To Children With Love Irish Charity, pose at a ceremony to award foreign citizens for outstanding achievements in strengthening international peace, friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding, and preserving and promoting Russian language and culture abroad, as part of a Moscow Kremlin reception to mark National Unity Day annually celebrated in Russia on November 4. Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Debby has spent 12 years of her life constantly traveling between Ireland and Russia. Her mobile phone is never switched off even for a minute so that the children of Khortolovo can call her at any time.

Over the years Debbie’s team have worked for the improvement of the Khortolevo orphanage using 6 million euros donated by people from all over Ireland. In total, over the years, she has transformed the lives of 1200 orphans.

Here are just a few examples of activities stewarded by From Russia with Love. The LSC  (Life Skills Centre) programme promotes the integration of pupils from the orphanage in real-life and social conditions. Another project, the Sibling Programme, works to reunite children separated at adoption. Debbie Deegan’s efforts have been incredibly effective: Russian officials have reviseed the very reactionary practice of separating siblings.

The governor of the Bryansk region awarded Debbie the title of “Honorary Citizen of the Bryansk region,” and awarded her three medals including the “Gold Medal for Charity”. In 2010, Ireland named Debbie Deegan woman of the year. But the greatest reward for her efforts, of course, is the genuine love and gratitude of Khortolevo’s children.

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Svetlana Repina

Тысяча двести детей Дебби Диган


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