CORK Life Centre director Don O’Leary is part of a group delivering humanitarian aid to people on the Polish border fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr O’Leary told The Echo he had been speaking with friends working on the ground with people arriving in Poland and he had wanted to help.
He said the staff and community of the Life Centre had supported his decision to bring a delivery of humanitarian aid to the Polish border, adding that the four men who travelled with him had all spoken with their families before undertaking the journey.
“It was important to let their loved ones know that we will be as safe as possible and we won’t be crossing the border into Ukraine, but we will be delivering aid to people who need it,” Mr O’Leary said.
“We brought out generators, nappies, baby formula, sheets and blankets, medical equipment, and painkillers.
“Once we have delivered the aid we have brought, if people tell us they need food, then we will buy that.
“We brought a minibus and a transit [van] that is full to the brim — and I do mean full to the brim. I would worry about any customs person who might open the door for a look, because it’ll overflow,” he joked.
“I know some people will say, ‘Why not just give money to the Red Cross?’ and certainly the Red Cross is doing incredible work and I support the Red Cross myself, but I do think there is a part for communities to play.”
Mr O’Leary has been director of the Cork Life Centre, which offers one-to-one tuition to students failed by the conventional education system, since 2006.
When he joined the Life Centre it had five students but now has 55.
He said he had been answering questions from students in the Life Centre about their journey to Poland and he said he believed this was a good way to address young people’s anxieties and to show that everyone could contribute in their own way.
“A lot of them are asking if I’m going to be shot, but it’s important to show that while this war is terrible, it isn’t happening everywhere, and it’s important too that they know we were asked if we would help out and we’re doing that because everyone has a part to play.”
A life-long socialist, Mr O’Leary is scathing in his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s unthinkable that so many lives have been lost and so many people have been murdered all because one man in Russia wants to pretend he’s a muscle man.”
Last December, in an interview with The Echo, Mr O’Leary spoke publicly for the first time about his terminal cancer.
Dr Don O’Leary, to give him the honorary title awarded him last November by University College Cork, was presented with a Lord Mayor’s Civic Award in January for his outstanding contribution to education.
The Life Centre group plans to be back in Ireland by Monday, March 28, and Mr O’Leary said he had a pressing reason to get home on time.
“It’s our wedding anniversary, so I’d better get home, even if I have to swim,” he said.