We Were There When… a Man of Steel from Kildare choked as he told the true story of a young Kenyan orphan girl on The Coffee at Eleven Show

Paddy O’Connor is a Man of Steel. No, he doesn’t wear a cape, nor his briefs on the outside, but he works with steel. Has done all his life. In Kildare.

He founded an orphanage in Kenya to rescue young girls from poverty, from abuse, from FGM, from becoming child brides. He can’t save them all but he can save some and for now that is enough. His partner in this very human venture is Róisín Kelly.

Paddy is a Man of Steel and he is a Super Hero in our eyes.

The magic (and the hope) of live entertainment happens when all involved walk away shaking their heads in disbelief, dying to tell someone, “We were there when…” This cannot happen every time, even if the same people utter the same words time after time, as in a stage play that runs night after night, but it happens when a sprinkling of magic touches performers, crew and audience alike. And it happened several times on The Coffee at Eleven Show.

As we break for the summer, we thought we’d go back to the recordings and pull out a few of those moments where we can honestly and proudly say, “We were there when…”.

The plan is to share one “We were there when…”moment with you each week between now and September.

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to stick on the kettle, grab a coffee, grant yourself six minutes of l’Oreal’ time (you’re worth it) and allow us to present you a very special “We were there when…” moment.

We Were There When a Man of Steel from Kildare choked as he told the true story of a young Kenyan orphan girl on The Coffee at Eleven Show

Paddy: Can I share one story?

Me: Please.

Paddy: “It’ll be two minutes. Because I’ve probably a little bit of doom and gloom and I don’t want to, because it’s wonderful. There’s far more pluses than there is negatives. I had a little girl called Priscilla in my first … In Tunsa’s Children’s Orphanage. She came to us at 11 years of age. She was doing her Leaving Cert about four years ago, it’s not Leaving Cert, she was 17 and we had her in the boarding school. And this is where Róisín comes in. She gets time to sit and talk to them. I’m trying to build something. Róisín sits and talks and her and Priscilla had a lovely contact with each other. And she asked Priscilla, what was her story? How did she come to be in Tunsa’s? And she said, “Mom and dad,” she calls us mom and dad. She said, “I don’t know if I’m an orphan or not.”

And I kept going, what do you mean you don’t know? Well she said, back in 2009, there was an election in Kenya. And two parties came together, didn’t believe that one had lost and one had won and went at it. And the big thing in Kenya is your tribe, you can be a Kikuyu, you can be a Luo, you can be a Masai. The tribe is everything, and they slaughtered each other. Overnight they went mad at each other. It went on for nearly 15 months and little Priscilla was 11, she was down in the local village with her mom and her brother and sister. And it went off and she got separated. The mother fled one way and she happened to go the other way. And she ended up in an IDP camp, an Internally Displaced Persons camp, the plastic … And sooner or later ended up in Tunsa’s.

And was with us for nearly six years, she was with us, five and a half years. From 11 and a half up to 17. And that’s where she was, she was in school and she didn’t know anything. And Róisín, she said to me, “Paddy, we have to do something.” She said, “What are we going to do?” So we flew over, the two of us, one week in November. We took this little girl out of school … Now Edwina, at this stage, was with us and her husband, Timothy. She wasn’t happy about taking her out of school because she was doing her leaving cert, this particular Saturday. We got into our van and we drove for four hours to a place called Limuru. It’s a tea plantation area.

We got out of the van and, and Priscilla had Róisín’s hand and she pointed down this hill and she said, “That’s where I used to live,” but there was nothing there. And I went to the gates of this little tea plantation factory, and in my pidgin Swahili asked this man, “Did he ever hear of this girl?” And he hadn’t. And I said, “Is there anybody six years or more in this factory that might have heard of her?” And they said, no. And as God is my judge, there was two little boys standing against a wall beside us, about six years of age or maybe eight. And one of them called me Mzungu Mzee, which is an old white man. I was really browned off with that, I must admit, but he said, “We know this lady.”

And I said, “What?” He said, “We know her.” And I looked at Róisín and I thought, what do we got to lose? Let’s follow these two kids. So they took us up this road and across this tea plantation, it was a beautiful area. And a little body came running down towards, about seven years of age, with a milk can. And we stopped and he was Priscilla’s brother. He’d been a year and a half when … We followed him anyway, up this route, and we came across a load of tin shacks. And I knocked on this tin door and I walked in and there was a woman inside, with a fire inside, twigs, with a blanket over … They were sleeping, and her tree children. And I said, “Jina langu ni Paddy”. My name is Paddy and I have a girl here.” And Priscilla burst past us.

And we found her mother.

And I started to cry. Róisín will tell you, we just sobbed. It was like somebody had released a pressure valve on the back of our neck. Because I was thinking, what am I doing here? What are we doing taking this child, who hasn’t found her parents, her mother, in five years. In 49 million people to try and find her mother? I walked away and I went down to the local shop, tin shack, and bought some milk and tea and brought it back up. And we sat for an hour, and her mother said to us, “We had a name of a neighbor and his name was, say, Johnny.”

And I said, “Who was this man, Johnny?” And she said, his wife … She was a clairvoyant, basically. And his wife told her that as she prayed every day and man would come to her door with her child. And after an hour, she let us take that child away and put her back into school. Can you imagine an Irish mother finding her child after five and a half years? And Priscilla is a nurse now and she’s the most wonderful little girl, she looks after the family, she’s become the head of the family. But that’s how much Róisín Kelly means to me. She was …”

The Steel man chokes…

We all choke.

Watch the full interview here: https://youtu.be/SZhliCjcIL8

Connect with Paddy here: https://www.facebook.com/paddy.oconnor.140

Connect with Róisín here: https://www.facebook.com/roisin.kelly.31

Support their work here: https://www.facebook.com/Cara-Projects-150316108322887/

Come back next week for another installment of “We were there when…” from a guest who had Coffee with Colm on The Coffee at Eleven Show, brought to you by WIG-WAM – SME Peer Support

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