By Louise Walsh
A survivor of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster who has just graduated with a Masters in Criminology, is calling on the Belarussian Government to reopen adoption opportunities so other children can have the same chances of life in Ireland as she had.
Raisa Carolan (aged 25) has come a long way since her days the No. 3 Orphanage in Minsk.
Since Tom and the late Ann Carolan in Trim, Co Meath took the then frightened little girl under their wing, she has undergone 25 operations to treat the many deformities she was born with as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
These included a cleft palate and eventual limb amputation because of being born with webbed legs and a club foot.
Now, her new Masters from University College Cork adds to her already accomplished Arts Degree from the University of Galway, where she now lives.
She has just secured a paid internship with the Road Safety Authority, which she is looking forward to starting in May.
In addition, Raisa also represents Ireland as part of the Wheelchair Rugby 7s.
It may be a lifetime away, but although memories of her harsh orphanage life still haunt her, she desperately wants to return to revisit her roots and perhaps find her biological parents.
Raisa was just six when she first came to Ireland and straight into the loving care of Ann and Tom as part of the holiday programmes where a number of children would come here for short stays.
"After Belarus, when I experienced the love, warmth and care in Ireland, I never wanted to go back again. I always hoped I'd be picked every year to return to Ireland, but there was no guarantee."
Ann and Tom soon had their heart set on adopting the little girl and were eventually able to successfully do so, bringing her home to Trim when she was 10 years old.
Sadly, Ann died in 2009 but left a lasting legacy in Raisa and her five other siblings.
Now 25, having attained her academic excellence, she hopes to return to Belarus before hopefully finding a career in the criminology area in Ireland.
"I want to go back and find my parents. I remember when I was younger, they took me out of the orphanage and brought me home to their apartment several times," she said.
"I know I have a brother and I'd like to find out why they gave me up.
"Home to me will now be forever Trim, but I feel that part of me is missing until I fill in those years.
"I also call on Belarus to reopen the adoption process so other children might have the same destiny as me."
Speaking after her graduation, Adi Roche, founder of Chernobyl Children's International said: "Raisa truly is an exceptional young woman with an incredible tenacity to achieve.
"The loving support from the Carolan family and the Trim community has helped Raisa to become the beautiful woman she is today.
"Raisa should be incredibly proud of what she has achieved - so far. There is no limit as to what she can achieve," said Roche.