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Donncha O’Callaghan battles to give war-torn kids better life

Donncha O'CallaghanWarrior Donncha O’Callaghan brought down the curtain on a gruelling first season at Worcester and then set off on a more challenging assignment.

He is travelling to Lebanon, one of the world’s most notorious hot spots, as a UNICEF Ireland ambassador.

The 37-year-old lock has become a crowd favourite at Sixways, where his vast experience gleaned from playing 98 times alongside Paul O’Connell for Ireland and the Lions helped the Warriors achieve Premiership safety.

Day job complete, he is  visiting Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, home to 400,000 Syria refugees, where on previous tours of duty he has witnessed intense human suffering.

O’Callaghan told The Rugby Paper: “In the Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria, are settlements and camps with the most appalling conditions you’ve ever seen. Politics doesn’t matter there, people are just looking to survive.

“As a parent of four children myself, to see kids suffering in the way I have is so humbling. The work UNICEF does is magnificent and people don’t realise that just a few pounds provides food and medicine to make a difference.”

O’Callaghan has twice visited ISIS-threatened Lebanon, and since 2009 he has completed eight charitable missions to war-torn or disaster-hit zones such as Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Haiti and Nigeria – work he takes most seriously.

He explained: “Rather than being someone who throws on a T-shirt and just stands for a photo, I feel I add value. It’s a total buy-in as opposed to just putting my name to it.

“I go wherever UNICEF needs me. It frightens the hell out of my wife when I’m heading to places like South Sudan and Lebanon, but I do it because of the incredible work UNICEF do.

“Kids all over the world are being deprived of a childhood and when you look at the Syrian crisis, a whole generation now will never have gone to school. You chat to those kids about the violence and suffering and it’s just incredible really.”

O’Callaghan will return to pre-season training at the end of June, to a Worcester side on the up.

He said: “We’re mentally stronger as a group. Earlier in the season we were making mistakes all the time, but there’s a maturity in the squad now.

“You want guys to learn and get better at top-flight level and that’s what’s happened.

“There’s great energy within the squad and when you’ve been around the game as long as I have, that’s great to be involved in. The coaches have done a really great job.”

Despite his age and experience, O’Callaghan insists he is still learning, explaining: “I’ve been challenged every day by the coaches and to be able to still come in and take away information to make me a better player is brilliant.

“It’s been an incredibly enjoyable year. I get on really well with the lads, the Warriors supporters are so passionate and I’m sure we’ll be better next season.”

For details of Donncha’s relief work and donations visit: www.unicef.ie

NEALE HARVEY

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