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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 9 July, 2020

'It feels good to do a good deed': This nine-year-old Irish boy is travelling to Belarus to help Santa

Misha McEneney will help Santa deliver presents to hundreds of children in orphanages in Belarus this Christmas.

Image: Tom McEnaney

CHILDREN IN ORPHANAGES across Belarus have been busily writing letters to Santa in recent weeks but instead of games consoles, drones and Paw Patrol dolls, their wish lists are filled with toiletries, blankets and winter coats.

Nine-year-old Dublin boy Misha McEneney and his parents, Tom and Roisin, are travelling to Belarus in early January to fulfill those wish lists for 650 physically and mentally disabled children in six institutions around the country.

Tom, who is a media consultant and columnist with The Times (Ireland Edition), first travelled to Belarus in 1998 to report on a group of Irish trades people who were refurbishing an orphanage.

Since then he has returned every year and has carried out numerous projects including renovating orphanages, building dozens of playgrounds and libraries and even setting up apiaries to teach children to care for bees.

“We looked at all the orphanages and we ranked them from worst to best. Then we started with the worst,” he explained.

We put in 100 acre farms to make sure the children had good food and so they could learn how to farm. We’ve done hundreds of projects of all sizes. Even small things, like supplying tampons, they give a child dignity and you can’t put price on that.

On one of his earliest trips Tom realised that the children had never been visited by Santa so he and some friends returned at Christmas and took on the role of Father Christmas, bringing gifts to children who had never gotten any before.

Since then he has returned every year with his wife Roisin and a rotating cast of friends and volunteers. This year will mark Tom’s 20th year donning the red suit and more than a dozen people will make the trip.

The team also carry out assessments and repairs and make sure the children have everything they need such as wheelchairs and clothing.

“Santa’s helper”

In recent years Misha, who is in third class in John Scottus primary school in Ballsbridge, has taken on a number of important roles in the operation.

He finds out what the children need for their libraries and pets’ rooms and helps Santa collect and deliver presents to the hundreds of children.

“I’m kind of like Santa’s helper,” he explained. ”I like it a lot because it’s really fun to help out the children and it brings joy. It feels good to do a good deed.”

Showing a level of awareness that far exceeds his nine years Misha says the experience has taught him a lot about helping people and he plans to continue travelling to Belarus as he grows up.

I’ve become more aware that there’s children out there that don’t have their parents and aren’t as lucky as I am. There are children who don’t have Santa at Christmas.

Tom agrees that the trips have been a wonderful learning experience for his son.

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Tom has a policy that the children have to write to Santa themselves because it’s the only time of year that they can ask for something and they are going to get it.

Toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner are the most frequent requests while blankets, irons, warm winter coats and MP3 players are also hugely popular.

All of the children live with physical or mental disabilities. In the orphanage in the town of Rudensk, which will be one of the main focuses of the trip this year, they were all rescued from particularly difficult family circumstances.

Despite this Misha says they are great fun to be around and there’s always a brilliant atmosphere during the visits.

I’ve never seen one child unhappy. They’re always smiling and happy. It’s really, really fun. [Belarus] is just a nice place.

The family fund raise for the orphanages through contributions from friends and by holding collections outside shopping centres.

Anyone who wants to make a donation can email for information.

READ: Igor was abandoned in an orphanage as a baby – now he spends his summers in Ireland with a loving family>

READ: Santa in Arnott’s helped a man propose to his partner, and it was just so lovely>

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Ceimin Burke

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