Vicky Dowling is a third year BA in Politics and International Relations student at the University of Limerick. She is currently on a cooperative placement at St. Gabriel’s School & Centre in Dooradoyle, Limerick. St. Gabriel’s is a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity which provides a range of clinical therapies and interventions for up to 500 children and teens with disabilities. Vicky writes about her experience here:
“As part of my course, I have to complete 6 months of cooperative placement. Because I am unsure of what path I want to go down in the future, I decided to do a split placement to try and get a broader idea, rather than spending all of my experience in just one place. I know that I am passionate about helping people and making a change, so I guess I knew what jobs I didn’t want. There are so many different ways to help people and so many different groups of people that need help, so it was hard to decide what area to go into.
“I organised my first placement myself through studentvolunteer.ie. I applied to an organisation called VMM International, and they offered me a placement opportunity in Uganda. I spent 9 weeks working with the Rwenzori Centre for Research and Advocacy, which was an absolutely amazing experience.
“I was so happy to have my placement sorted as I left it very last minute because I was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I really didn’t want to waste this opportunity to learn if I was as interested and passionate about working to help people as I thought I was.
“I then received an email from the UL co-op office that St. Gabriel’s School and Centre in Dooradoyle, a facility for disabled children, were looking for co-op students. I volunteered briefly in a centre for independent living in transition year, so I knew this would be an environment that I would enjoy working in. I applied and luckily I was one of two students that were selected. I had never heard of St. Gabriel’s before, but now that I’m working here, it nearly feels like a crime not to know about this place and the amazing work that they do.
“In the school, there are approximately 70 students (aged 4 to 18), 40 teachers, 28 SNAs, 14 school buses, a nursing department and many more facilities for the children. In the centre, there are many therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, administration staff, a heated hydrotherapy pool, and many rooms filled with equipment for the children for their therapy sessions.
“I am working with the fundraising and development manager, so I am not dealing directly with the children in St. Gabriel’s. I am working to raise the profile of the organisation and to help fund-raise so that they may continue their great work and progress in the future. The hydrotherapy pool itself costs approximately 200,000 euro per year to run. A physio bed costs approximately 2,000 euro. That’s just an idea of how much money is really needed to run such a facility. If I hadn’t spent time in this centre, I wouldn’t have fully understood just how reliant they are on fundraising and donations. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to give the children the care that they need.
“I am working to raise the profile of the organisation and to help fund-raise so that they may continue their great work and progress in the future.”
“St. Gabriel’s are currently fundraising to build a six-bed Children’s Respite House near Mungret. This will cost slightly over €2,000,000 to build. As a person that doesn’t have a disability, or have a close connection with someone who does, it really is heart breaking to see the amount of dependence a lot of people have on equipment and carers to live their daily lives. This equipment cannot be provided to them without the generous donations that St. Gabriel’s receive. As the time that these children have is precious, this respite house will give them their own space for a short term get away from their parents, to have fun with other children, and also allows their parents time to spend on their other children, to have a getaway, to rest.
“The workers of St. Gabriel’s and the parents of the children that come here are everyday heroes. They do everything in their power to make the children’s lives better and as enjoyable as they can. It honestly makes me so proud to say that I worked in a place filled with such good hearted people, all working for such an amazing cause.”