Former Donegal star Brendan Devenney fasting for child in Togo
IF someone asked you to help push their broken-down car down the road, you’d get out and push it.
If you saw a little girl walking past your house with no food, you’d invite her in and give her your dinner.
Brendan Devenney’s worldview is refreshingly simple: you’d help someone out if you were in a position to do so.
A few months ago the former Donegal footballer did an Internet search on overseas charities.
The one he stumbled upon was Plan International, a global charity, established in 1937, dedicated to promoting the rights of children in the most deprived parts of the world.
The thing that drew Devenney to Plan International was their work in trying to protect the rights of young girls.
So, the idea snowballed into the Letterkenny man deciding to sponsor an eight-year-old girl from Atakpamé, the most marginalized province of Togo in western Africa, by fasting for 24 hours once a month and donating the €22 he would normally spend on food that day.
Around half of children there drop out of school due to early pregnancy, child trafficking and poverty. Plan International have been working in Togo for over 30 years, and work with communities, schools and the government to create a more equal world where girls get the same opportunities as boys.
“I’d been thinking about it for a while,” says Devenney, who starred for the Donegal senior footballers from 1997 to 2008. “I’d looked at a couple of sites that sponsored children… Clean water and education are the two big areas that Plan International concentrate on.
He adds: “It took me a couple of weeks to phone them because I thought they might say: ‘Right, we’ll get back to you.’
“But straight away, they said: ‘Brilliant, we're on board.’”
High-profile GAA members Tomas O Se, Joe Brolly and Kieran Donaghy have helped Devenney spread the word on Plan International's work via their respective social media platforms.
Three months into his fasting challenge, the former footballer turned Gaelic football pundit has found it a tough but rewarding experience.
Asked why he decided to sponsor a child in a far-flung part of the world, Devenney says: "I don't know how I'm going to put this and not sound corny - to me, I can't understand why people wouldn't be bothered, I just don't get it, that you wouldn't want to help someone else. For example, somebody's car breaks down people jump out and help that person.
“The problem is when you can't see that person on the other side of the world, people switch off from it.
“If a wee girl walked past your window now and had nothing to eat, you'd give her your dinner. The problem is people don't connect their mind to those people who need it.”
Father-of-two Devenney was one of the most flamboyant forwards in Ireland during the early-to-mid-Noughties before announcing his inter-county retirement in 2008.
He became a newspaper columnist for a time and has been one of the leading GAA commentators with BBC Radio Ulster where he regularly strikes the right balance between informing and entertaining listeners, as well as appearing on RTE, Newstalk and Highland Radio.
It is Devenney’s hope to recruit more child sponsors for Plan International and says he has finally got used to fasting once a month.
“At the start it was hard, not just the hunger but fitting it around a busy lifestyle. I gradually built the time I fasted up from six hours, to nine, to eventually completing a twenty-four hour fast. I chose a Friday to do it because you’re naturally in a good mood – timing is very important.
“It's like cleaning your body out and it can reboot your immune system. You also get a great appreciation of food. Your taste buds go through the roof at times.”
While he regards Ireland as one of the most charitable countries in Western Europe, he fears technology has the capacity to consume the younger generations.
"There is so much going on, their attention is being taken by so many other things that they stop thinking.
“I'm not political. I don't really care who's in power because they are all much of a muchness. Make the best of what's out there. People grumble but there is huge wastage here.
“I was a bit surprised that some people said to me: ‘You should be supporting people here.’
“I said: ‘I do support things here, but when people don’t have enough to eat or can’t go to school then I won’t be sending money to Togo.’
“At the end of the day we’re all human beings… The impact of your €22 over in Togo is massive. You spend €22 on something here, it would hardly get me and my boy a McDonald’s.”
Donegal have match winners to retain Ulster crown: Devenney...
BRENDAN Devenney believes his native Donegal have more match-winners in their ranks to retain their Ulster title against Cavan in Clones on Sunday.
The former Tir Chonaill attacker praised the Breffni Blues for reaching their first Ulster final since 1997, under new boss and former Cavan forward Mickey Graham – but still takes Donegal to pip them.
“I just think Donegal have got a wee bit more talent,” said the St Eunan’s Letterkenny man.
“Cavan are getting up to that level where they can game-manage a game. But with Patrick McBrearty back and young Jamie Brennan going well, Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh also, Donegal have got four or five players that are top, top notch.
“Obviously, Dara McVeety has been brilliant for Cavan and they've a strong midfield, but I just think Donegal have got about four match winners among them and I expect them to win.”