The Unforgettable Fire

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Rosemarie Meleady, The Big Issue

Paul Hewson, now known worldwide as `Bono,' the lead singer with mega-big rock band U2, fell head over heels in love with the attractive brown-eyed girl the first day she arrived at Mount Temple Secondary School, Dublin.

At first, Ali played hard to get as she was not going to be "just one of Paul's girls," but by his 17th birthday they were going out together. Now married for 16 years, Ali and Bono have two children, Jordan and Eve.

Ali Hewson is not the typical superstar's wife who lends her name to any charity that asks. Bono's childhood sweetheart has successfully kept her world private amidst the status which world fame brings. 38-year-old Ali, who exudes natural beauty, intelligence and warm friendliness, is the active working patron of the Chernobyl Children's Project (CCP). Alongisde CCP founder and presidential candidate, Adi Roche, Ali has driven the gruelling 2,500-mile journey from Ireland to Belarus in desperate missions to bring aid to some of the four million chidren who are chronically ill as a result of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986.

"I've been out there seven or eight times. The first time I went (in 1993) I didn't realise what i was going to be faced with. I don't think anybody did. Seven years on, poeple thought Chernobyl had gone away and the problem was over."

The eleventh aid convoy to Western Russia will be leaving Ireland in April, delivering everything from life-saving machines and ambulances to shoes and toys. Ali will not be accompanying this convoy.

"I've got two kids and their daddy has been away, so one of us has to be here."

Ali plans that when husband, Bono returns from his PopMart world tour she can head out to Belarus in October to do some hands-on work.

For the first time the convoy is linking with two other foreign charities, one of them being the Scottish charity Mission East, Ali explains: "They are going to the Ukraine and we're providing a truck for them. They were on the (RTE television chat show) The Pat Kenny Show and they showed some horrific footage of children being led in for operations without anaesthetics and being tied down to chairs. It was horrific. I couldn't watch it. Adi is going with that truck though. to find the place."

Although Ali plays a very active part in CCP, she would love to be able to do more.

"I don't have a skill. My biggest regret in life is that I never became a nurse because I'd be able togo out to all these countries and really help hands-on and really get stuck in."

Although Ali lives in Killiney, Co Dublin and the CCP office is in Cork, she has figured out a way of still doing continuous hands-on work.

"I sort of take on unusual cases, like little Yulya who has a very rare disease called PKU. She's not able to absorb protein into her body, so she has to have food that has absolutely no protein in it. If she takes in any protein she could go into a coma."

Ali sourced two companies - one in Spain and the other in Ireland - who now send a continuous supply of the specially manufactured food which Yulya needs to survive.

"I also just link inot hospitals and doctors who can help with different children like for little Alexei, we found Michael Hurley at Temple Street Hospital (in Dublin)."

Alexei had an operation to remove a tumour from his eye socket the size of a baseball. It was a really complicated operation which actually involved completely taking his skull apart and putting it back together again. He will need further treatment.

"He's a great little fella and really smart," says Ali proudly

CCP is on the brink of an international adoption agreement between Belarus and Ireland which they have been negotiating for the past two years. This would enable the five children being fostered in Ireland from Belarus to be adopted by their Irish families.

"I've had little to do with the adoption agreement really but all the children we have brought in have severe physical disabilities but are very mentally capable."

CCP wouldn't be encouraging people to contact them in relation to adoption as they are dealing with children who have very special needs.

"There are many families who would love to take a child but there are only certain families who could take the children with such intense physical disabilities."

Ali continues: "In Belarus, these children, if they had survived there, would have gone to institution after institution and would have been totally institutionalised as mentally capable children just lumped in with children who are mentally incapable of doing anything. All the children need help but these ones were in immediate need".

"If we can, we do intend to bring over more severe cases. Hopefully, the agreement we have been working on for two and a half years will come through. We will be the first country to have an adoption agreement with Belarus and then we will be able to take more children over."

When asked what will the five children's fate be if the agreement does not come through, she answers definitely: "That's not going to happen."

I feel that if blood had to be spilt over this, Ali would be the first in the firing line.

"We won't let that happen. No. We just won't let that happen. Alexei would have died if he had stayed where he was. And little Alanna, who is now down in Cork, was in very serious danger. She had to get iron rods put into her body because she has a degenerative bone problem and even handling her could break her bones. She's a very smart and well adjusted kid now."

When Ali was working on the award-winning documentary `Black Wind, White Land - Living With Chernobyl,' she struck up a particularly strong bond with Anna, one of the Belarusian children. She's now her godmother.

"I met Anna during the documentary. She wasjust nine months old and my own little girl was about 18 months old at the time. We met her in the children's Number One House, which is where children who are abandoned because of their disabilities are kept if they don't have to be in hospital.

"Anna is in the documentary. Both her legs are short. Both her ears are closed. But she is very alert and she's a lovely kid and I don't know, I just picked her up and it's just one of those things where we bonded...And it's incredible now to see her living down in Bandon with her new family...She's an amazing character and she's taken over Bandon, I think!"

Being the caring person she is, Ali does find it difficult to leave the children behind when leaving the orphanages. So did Ali and Bono ever consider adopting a child?

"We have thought about it. Yes. We have thought about it strongly with some children from Belarus. It's very hard going over there and you'll not be able to bring them all home but you have to be as objective as you can about it. In the end, I decided that...well, we decided that to take a child with disabilities would mean constant attention to that one child and it would mean not being able to work for the project and for all the children.

"And there are so many families who are prepared to take the children, who can support them and give them the one-to-one attention. Plus it's difficult for any child to come into our family because of who their daddy would then be," Ali says with a grin.

"That would be an extra spotlight on them and it's going to be hard enough on them to adjust and to deal with what they have to deal wihtout that end of it." Ali continues: "

So for those two reasons, at this stage, I've decided to keep working with the project in the hope of helping more children in general."

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on April 7, 1998 10:03 AM.

Bono's Top Ten List was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 Looking Ahead But Keeping The Future Open is the next entry in this blog.

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