A NORTHSIDE woman has launched a TEDx Talk detailing her experiences from setting up a charity at her kitchen table over 20 years ago to having dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clontarf native Debbie Deegan was approached by TEDx to give a talk in Kingston Upon Thames after they heard about her charity work with orphan children in Russia.
The resulting talk, ‘Mrs Deegan – President Putin will be seated to your right’, is a heartfelt insight into her experiences transforming how children in State care are treated in Russia that lead to her receiving the highest award ever presented to an Irish citizen in that country.
Debbie’s experience started in 1998, after she met a child who had travelled to Ireland with the Chernobyl Children International charity.
Shortly after, Debbie travelled to Russia to find the orphanage where the child lived.
She was so shocked by the conditions that the children were living in she was inspired to establish the charity ‘To Children With Love’ formerly known as ‘To Russia With Love.’
“We looked into huge bedrooms, old metal beds wedged into rows full of orphans, there was an overpowering smell of urine,” she said of the orphanage in her TEDx Talk.
On the day she was to leave the orphanage Debbie kissed a young girl, with bruises on her face, goodbye. She told Debbie’s interpreter: “Tell Debbie I’ve never been kissed before.”
A young boy gave her a note asking for her help to find his big brother and Debbie decided she had to do something to show these children they were loved and cared for.
Over the last two decades the charity has dramatically changed the lives of over 5,000 orphaned children in one of Russia’s most desolate regions.
Looking back on the past 20 years Debbie said she is so proud of everything they have achieved.
“Ten years ago I would’ve said the fact that we were able to turn a really grim orphanage into one of the best orphanages in the world was our biggest achievement,” she told Northside People.
“15 years on I would have said we were absolutely stunned that we were going to be standing at college universities watching our children graduate.
“20 years on which is now, I’m standing back looking at our original children with children of their own, happily married in normal relationships, they have smashed all of our goals and expectations.”
Despite the love and passion that Debbie has for her work and all of the children that they have taken into their “family”, she found doing the TEDx Talk a very daunting experience.
“I wrote the speech, about 10 A4 pages, so I had to learn it off by rote the way you did in school,” she said.
“So because I learned it off I couldn’t remember what was coming next was even though it was my own story so I was very afraid that I would blank.”
After 20 years’ successfully transforming the lives of orphaned children in Russia, Debbie said she will continue her work.
“I’m married to it so I will stay involved with the children’s lives so there’s no getting out of it for me, nor do I want to,” she said.
Debbie has also been offered the opportunity to do another TEDx talk, in Ireland, and said she definitely would like to pursue more motivational speaking.
“I would like to talk more. I’ll talk to anyone who wants to listen to me because I feel in the world that we live in today that people do not realise how powerful they are,” she added.
If you would like to contact Debbie to speak at an event, you can find more information on www.debbie-deegan.com