GOLFER RORY McILROY has travelled to Haiti to view aid efforts set up in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake, on his first trip as an ambassador for children’s charity Unicef.
The 22-year-old sportsman spent part of the first day of his visit at a Unicef-supported school, the Ecole Joyeux Lutins in Haiti’s capital Port au Prince. The school buildings were completely destroyed when the tremor hit in January 2010, but have since been rebuilt in an earthquake-proof design.
McIlroy met pupils as young as three and four who are being trained in simple ways to protect themselves from the cholera epidemic that has affected almost 300,000 people since last October. Proper hand washing techniques are among the skills taught at the school – one of 128 which have been built in the city with support from the charity.
He also visited a nutrition and health clinic and joined in knitting, sketching and singing sessions with almost 200 youngsters at a ‘child friendly space’ set up by Unicef. The space, in the Port au Prince suburb of Tabarre, is designed to give children the opportunity to play in a safe environment.
McIlroy said: “The chance that these children are getting to be kids and enjoy themselves is so important for their well-being. Being here at this child-friendly space gives them the chance to play with their friends and enjoy themselves – helping them escape for a little while every day from the difficult situations they are growing up in.”
He added the first day of the field visit had made a big impression on him, saying: “Nothing could prepare me for meeting the children in Haiti and I am truly amazed by how happy they are. The everyday things that we take for granted at home in Ireland are so longed for in Haiti.”
The golfer, who came within a whisker of winning the US Masters championship two months ago, followed in the footsteps of Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Donncha O’Callaghan, and Dustin the Turkey when he was named as a Unicef Ireland Ambassador in March. The charity’s celebrity ambassadors help to raise funds and boost awareness of the issues facing children around the world.
Thanking McIlroy for making the visit, Unicef Ireland director Melanie Verwoerd said: “During his time on the ground in Port au Prince, he has made such a phenomenal impact. We are extremely thankful.”
Slideshow: Rory McIlroy’s visit to Haiti (Pictures: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland):