Her.ie Speaks To People Of The Year Winner Christina Noble On The Work In Her Foundation, Life In Vietnam And Winning The Award
Christina Noble has long been a figure in Ireland representing the strength of the human spirit. Born into a poor Dublin family, she and her three siblings were raised solely by their mother. Christina in her own words, “knows what it’s like to be young, homeless and desperate”.
After running away from an orphanage following her mother’s death, Christina moved to England with her brother. This is where she met her husband, with whom she had three children.
In 1971, Christina had a dream of children suffering in Vietnam:
"I don't know why I dreamed about Vietnam, perhaps it was because the country was so much in the news at the time. In the dream, naked Vietnamese children were running down a dirt road fleeing from a napalm bombing. The ground under the children was cracked and coming apart and the children were reaching to me. One of the girls had a look in her eyes that implored me to pick her up and protect her and take her to safety. Above the escaping children was a brilliant white light that contained the word 'Vietnam'."
Taking this as inspiration, Christina travelled to the country in 1989, and worked on developing the Christina Noble Foundation.
She speaks here to Her.ie on her journey, what inspired her to keep going, and the warmth she felt from the Irish people after being nominated and winning a People Of The Year award in 2000.
Did you set to go out with a plan, or to help a certain number of children?
No, no I had nothing planned. I hadn’t a clue when I was working in the fish and chip shop. It was only when I was there that I started to understand the dream. At the time, everything was closed down. There was a humanitarian and trade embargo and I had to just take it as it came.
It started by me taking on two little girls, two little slips of things, and then I took on other children I saw on the streets along the way. I just took it one day at a time. It was a very long, long journey, and to be honest, it still is.
I’d no idea of what structures were behind me. I just wanted to help because I understood their needs. I wanted to help in some way, big or small, one day at a time.
What has been your experience from sharing your story through your book?
There are people who have read my book in different countries, and they’ve done something in different countries. People by nature don’t always do that. These are people who decide to go out and do something, whether it’s on a small or large scale. Volunteers go but there they get a lot out of it as well. They fall in love with the people, like I fell in love with the children.
We have some amazing people who go out with the plan to help out for a few months and end up staying for four or five years. We have some amazing volunteers, whether they’re the youngsters who come out for three months, or the students at the RCSI or physios who give up their summers to work with us. They just go great work with the children, and local communities.
We’re lucky because for us we’re all focussing on the children. We’re very proud of everything the children achieve, and we [the team of volunteers] all fall in line together like a big family.
I think it works because we know nothing else matters. Everything is kept natural and we work with a team of Irish doctors who are just fantastic. They teach Vietnamese doctors on orthopaedic care, working together on treating the kids. They also work in the cancer hospitals and teach treatment and carry out research to help the local community. I’ve such a great respect for what they do.
And then you have Caroline Downey, who’s supported us for years. She was broken hearted by so many beautiful, young children struggling. Caroline could see all this love and she works tirelessly for the children and the projects, and comes out to visit too. If anyone deserves an award, she does. She does amazing things.
What is your main target or goal with your work?
I think the main thing is that the kids are happy, that they’re allowed be free spirits, free birds. They come to us like wounded birds, and we get to help mend their broken wings.
We run some of the largest free healthcare centres in Vietnam for the poorest of the poor. If a child has no family, they become part of the family.
It’s not only the child that benefits, but the family. We have an incredible team. It’s ALWAYS we, because we work together on everything, with the local people who are just incredible.
The Vietnamese people are beautiful, beautiful people. I love them and they love me. We’ve spent time working on health education, sex education, general education. I’ve watched families of children go through their education and graduate, getting jobs.
They grow from being little birds to being tough, hard, proud and proud of the hard work they’ve done and achieved.
There have been so many difficulties, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you see someone who couldn’t walk, get the help they need, and then they’re standing up and walking. It’s worth everything when you see their mother’s face. When you get that chill.
It’s worth every obstacle, every hurdle, every worry over where money is going to come from. When you see children going into school, getting fresh water. When you see local communities of students graduating and coming back to work with the family. We now have children who are doctors, engineers, pharmacists, research. Some who design jewellery – everything you could hope to work at.
Every child has a voice. It’s wonderful to see a child with their first schoolbag. They’re smart and they study very, very hard. They take nothing for granted. I’ve had to travel the world to get the few bob together to keep it all going. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
How do you feel to have been nominated and to then win the People of the Year award?
I can’t put it into words. I say to myself, “There’s some amazing people out there.” They’re the people you like to see getting the awards. Not that they want that award. It was so special because I was born here, and spent my childhood here and most of my teenage years. I thought at the time, ‘What would my mammy say now?’
She would have understood. She would have really understood. I didn’t wash the cups for nothing. I’m grateful to the Irish people ‘cause people nominate you for that. I can’t explain the feeling of love and the depth of feeling I have for the Irish people. There’s this lovely sense of warmth; it’s such a lovely thing to do. For me it’s such a beautiful thing to do.
Why should someone nominate a person for this award?
I guess because they nominate someone that is worthy of the award, someone you think deserves it. It’s a really lovely way to show recognition to someone. It can also be an incredible way to acknowledge that some people are not just there to survive but to be a warrior. I’ll tell you there’s an awful lot of people who deserve an award.
I thank God for giving me that, and the people of Ireland for such a wonderful gift and voting for me for the award.
I think there’s so many rising heroes and wonderful people. If this award also manages to help raise the profile of their hard work and projects, well it’s a really brilliant thing.
Nominations are open for the People of The Year Awards 2014, and it has never been easier to submit a nomination – members of the public can submit details of their nominee online at www.peopleoftheyear.com or by contacting the People of the Year Awards office for a nomination form on 01 2057397. Social media users can also submit their nominations at www.facebook.com/PeopleOfTheYearAwards. The closing date for entries is Friday 12th September.