It all started with ‘Boots for Kenya’, an idea launched by Paula Cullen – Leo’s mum – who asked the Leinster players if they had any boots or runners they no longer needed…
The response was fantastic and so, with several kitbags stuffed full of gear, Paula and husband Frank set off for Kenya in April.
Their destination was St Patrick’s secondary school in the agricultural town of Kitale, western Kenya, a school that opened in 2010 with a single classroom and just three pupils.
Today, thanks mainly to the support of Irish people and in particular Father Willie Walshe’s Wicklow friends, the school has 180 pupils as well as new classrooms, a science block, library, computer room, rest rooms, staff room, dining room and kitchen.
The school has virtually no sporting facilities, and the kids play in a field that is littered with stones and weeds. Needless to say, they were absolutely thrilled when Frank and Paula presented them with their Leinster goodies: jerseys, boots and runners.
These children are natural athletes and they took to rugby immediately, even if there weren’t enough boots to go around and a few of the three-quarter line had to play barefoot!
Their love of sport has been encouraged by Fr Walshe, a St Patrick’s Missionary priest from Donard in west Wicklow, who this year celebrates 40 years in the priesthood. Fr Walshe has spent his entire missionary career in Kenya where, in addition to helping to build schools for the poor, he has sponsored hundreds of students in second level education.
Many of his students have gone on to third level education or won sports scholarships to the USA.
Perhaps the most famous of these is Wesley Korir, a former student of Father Willie, who won a scholarship to attend college in Kentucky, trained as a marathon runner – and won last year’s Boston Marathon, having previously won LA Marathons in 2009 and 2010.
Wesley, who is still only 30, was also elected an MP in the recent elections in Kenya and, like his mentor Father Willie, wants Kenyan children to be educated from nursery school up to university. “Today’s youth are the future of our country” he has said. “Education is the most valuable asset that any person can have growing up in Kenya.”
Ireland has been good to St Patrick’s (All of the school buildings have Irish place names including one named Leinster!) but more help is needed, especially on the sporting front.
With that in mind, Leo and the Cullen family are launching a ‘Rugby Pitch For St Patrick’s Kenya’, a new initiative to raise funds for a proper playing field with an athletic track.
Can you help? Who knows, with the right facilities there could be a future Kenya Sevens player or a budding Dublin City Marathon winner among the kids of Kitale – all they need is some decent facilities to hone their natural talent.
We’re calling on Leinster Rugby and their supporters and anyone else who can help, to give something towards ‘Rugby Pitch For St Patrick’s Kenya’.
Online donations to : www.mycharity.ie/charity/rugbypitchforkenya
You can make a cheque payable to “Rugby Pitch for St. Patrick’s Kenya” and send to Leo Cullen or Paula Cullen, The Bearna Gate, Callowhill, Newtownmountkennedy. Co Wicklow.
Oh, we also need more gear! If you have any boots, runners or sporting gear (in reasonable nick) that you no longer need, please e-mail Paula at: email@example.com
Thank you! Asante!