Following the drum...

An afternoon with Daragh O'Malley and Yvette Leavy of the Sharpe's Children Foundation
March, 11th 2010

When you make a visit to the new website of the "Sharpe's Children Foundation" - - you walk into a friendly coloured world of clear blues and greens. And it's not only for your eyes, what you will find. The persuasive voice of Richard Sharpe suddenly fills the room and asks you to follow the drum - and never has Sean Beans voice sounded sweeter and more convincing. You start clicking through the different pages, and you read about the ideas and aims - and about the facts of life for many many children - "street children" - in the countries where 16 episodes of the legendary Sharpe Saga were filmed.

You get aware after a time, that the accompanying voice of Sharpe is now replaced by the equally well known melody of the "Sharpe" song, sang by John Tams.

And then you go on, and on. Reading about the conditions under which a big percentage of the world's children have to live - it is about the children that are the "forgotten" ones. And Daragh O'Malley and his actor colleagues have seen and met them in the countries where they filmed the Sharpe-series.
The decision to film in Ukraine, then, in the early 90s, a country that had just opened to the western world after the fall of the "Iron Curtain", had been done because of financial reasons. The Ukraine offered also a stunning landscape that would easily stage for the hills and valleys of Spain during the Peninsular Campaign in the early years of the 19th century.
For the cast and crew from the rich British Isles the confrontation with the simple life style and not very accommodating accommodations must have been as demanding as for the soldiers of the peninsular war they played so convincingly. And it is perhaps due to these experiences of a small group of foreigners "on campaign" in a foreign country, where they had to stick together to survive the daily challenges, that you always feel that special bond between them all, when you meet one of the bunch.

A bond that worked so fine, that, when 8 years after the last Sharpe-episode of the original series had been filmed, the two leading actors, Sean Bean aka Richard Sharpe and Daragh O'Malley (Sgt. Patrick Harper) met again for a new installment, playing now in India, it was, as Daragh tells, just like they had parted only the day before.

In India, again, the actors became aware of the many street children, and finally, Daragh decided that it was time to take action...
I am still on the website, the voice of John Tams has vanished, and I read about the "Sharpe Shelters", to make education possible for the orphaned and left alone children without hope - and I find that I started to nod constantly about what I read here. Oh, and it says, that the office for the "Sharpe's Children" is now open and we, (the readers) are invited to look in for a visit, if we come by.

Well, I do know, that I will come by, having just arranged a few days in London - time off from a demanding job - and I feel I want to see with my own eyes what it is all about - and on the spur of the moment I send an e-mail-message. So, a few days later, on the 11th of March you see me in a street somewhere in London, coming from the Underground-station doing my best to not getting lost (or driven over by one of the cars that constantly arrive from the right side, which is the wrong side for me) I do see a glassed front on the other side of the street with a logo I know from the net - I have arrived.

From outside, I see a big creamy coloured sofa in the window area, and after pressing the button, Yvette Leavy opens, the girl who had answered my mail. When entering, a man comes from behind, with well-known features, whom I recognize after some seconds as - yes, really! - Its him - Daragh O'Malley!

I haven't awaited to actually meet him here, so this is a very special surprise. We then chat amongst us three, and I become more and more involved, the more I hear.

With such a lot of charities and "do good"-actions by actors, politicians and everybody else, it becomes difficult to engage yourself, I find. Who is really convinced and involves himself in the good cause he speaks about? What can really help? Is a charity only the whim of a famous actor, and will it be abandoned the next day, when something more tantalizing comes up?

I had argued with myself after being home again, if I should write also about this, and that it was a main reason of my visit here, to find out, if Daragh O'Malley is to be found in that category? But in the end, I feel that I owe it to the honesty of Daragh and Yvette and the important cause of the "Sharpe's Children" to be also honest.
  As I said already, the major idea behind the "Sharpe's Children Foundation" - to make education possible and so give children who otherwise have no chance, a chance to help themselves - is something I can only agree to. Within no time, we are in the middle of a lively conversation, that will go on for nearly two hours.

Daragh tells, how they saw in India all these children - poor, but so friendly and content, and with these big smiles on their little brown faces - the white teeth that shimmered when they smiled. And I get the feeling, that this friendliness of the poorest of the poor has hit Daragh's heart directly and in a big way.
It's also in India, where the actors sat in a restaurant after a day of work, when they suddenly realised that at the window stood 20 or so children, pressing their noses at the glass. But where they envious of the rich foreigners? No. They smiled. And this was the one event, that finally brought the change from talking to doing - "The plan for the Sharpe's Children was hatched in India" says Daragh, with his melodious "Harper"-voice.  

And: "India has changed my life" he says also, and you know, that that is the simple truth. He tells about Portugal, where they also filmed, and about a shelter there, that he visited, and the big problems, they have - no funding. And that in a country in the heart of Europe. But that is how it is. And that is, what the "Sharpe's Children" can change.

Already years and years ago, when they were filming in the Ukraine, Daragh would investigate this. He visited orphanages there, and the forlorn and hopeless looks of these children are unforgotten.
So, is he the "face" of the "Sharpe's Children Foundation"? That makes him look away. And it's indeed said somehow shyly: "Well, I am the founder" But for him, it is something that is done by the actors, all of them. Like they did, all together, the Sharpe-films, and again, you feel the strong bond that exists between them. Never, you feel, can the "Sharpe's Children" be a one-man-show.
  And suddenly, we talk about "Sharpe". What is at the bottom of it? A group of uneducated soldiers, led by one who had all these disadvantages. An orphan, coming from the slums of London. No education. But he learns to read and write due to the help of his officer in prison in India. And about the life changing event that that was. And how it made Richard Sharpe, the officer from the ranks, possible.

"What made the series such a worldwide success?" Daragh asks. "It is the camaraderie, that exists between these soldiers and that made it possible for them to do the impossible tasks they did" And how right he is. As much as Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe is in the center of events, what makes this adventures really unforgettable and uncannily truthful, is how this group of people stick together.
Daragh has to do a telephone call and leaves for a short while. A chance to talk with Yvette, who tells about her background and that the decision to work for charities came when she was in Malawi, Africa in 2004. She was before in New York, working there. She will be in India, a country she was never before, to represent the Sharpe's Children at DASRA's Philanthropy Forum and looks already forward to it. She will visit also some existing shelters around Mumbai and becomes very animated talking about it. Strange, and touching I think, here is this young woman, for the first time she will visit India, and will she talk about the journey? The sight seeing? The marvelous country? No, what really and deeply interests her are the Shelters. Yvette is surely an asset to the foundation and with her energy she will move things!  
  Daragh is back, and we talk now about working children. "There are today more child slaves then in the centuries before" and that in today's so modern and civilized world. It's a subject that moves him deeply, and hearing him talk about it is something I won't forget. And one shouldn't forget this. How happy we can be, that our children are protected from a fate like this. And again we are back with the central point of the Sharpe's Children - education!
After 16 Sharpe Films, it is not sure, that another will come. The series is already legend, and it stays with us. But instead, like it is with other tv-series, of vanishing from the surface, here, it leads to something else. The next episode - I think. But Sharpe's Children will not stay an episode. I sit on this sofa here and I know, that that will not have been the last time. I will involve myself, that I know. What and how exactly? I will see.  

"Sharpe," Daragh says "is all about working together and that is the idea of the Sharpe's Children, that people are with us." Cast, crew, the fans, everybody. It is about skills bringing together, and advice from everyone, it is about volunteers who find their way to 68 Great Eastern Street, London, helping in the office, and as important as donations are, this is as important.

"What is the essence of the Sharpe series?" Sgt. Harper asks. "Together, we can do this"

Please go to the Website of the Sharpe's Children Foundation

There, you will find a wealth of information, an online facility for donations and lots of ideas for support.

If you live in the UK, and want to donate, you can also send a cheque.
(As far as I know cheques won't work anymore from other countries.)

I made some inquiries about tax-reduction for donations from Germany. Due to a new EC-law, this is possible. (I give an extra explanation for that on the German Site). This law is valid in every EC-country, please ask your financial authorities! has a wondeful interview covering a wealth of background information with Daragh O'Malley here - the perfect additional read :-)
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upload rg/ 24. August 2010