A big thank you to the girls from Mount Mercy College for sending in this article they created for their school newsletter.
We began Transition Year knowing we will be taking part in the greatly anticipated Y.S.I competition. We pondered over various issues we were concerned about but eventually decided on poverty in third world countries. We researched many different charities involved in volunteering abroad but finally decided on the Niall Mellon charity that organise a Building Blitz every year in South Africa. We set out with the difficult task of raising over €22 000. We had various fundraisers such as cake-sales, teacher baby photo competition, table quizzes, non-Uniform days, coffee mornings, take-me-out night, bag-packing, sponsored swims, door-to-door collecting, raffles and many many more.
After a difficult but worthwhile 6 months of fundraising, we prepared ourselves for the interviews to gain a place on the Blitz. There were only 4 places available for students. Our teacher Alex Savage would be accompanying us on the trip. After a long interview the four places were awarded to Niamh O’ Shea, Aoife Brady, Grace Kelleher and Eimear O’ Callaghan. We had a further €1800 to raise each over the summer to reach our fundraising target.
November came fast as we prepared ourselves for a week that we knew would be a life changing experience. We gathered in Cork airport and headed off on our flight to Heathrow and then our connecting flight to Cape Town. We arrived in Cape Town and each one of the Niall Mellon volunteers was greeted personally by Niall Mellon himself. We exited the baggage area only to be greeted by a group of local people singing with banners, posters and signs that welcomed the new Irish volunteers. On the bus we saw our first glimpse of the stark difference between the wealth of Cape Town and the township life in the shacks. That day we went to the site and listened to an inspirational speech made by Niall Mellon. We were then brought to our team house and welcomed by our team and the team leaders. Aoife said “Every member on the Lime green welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family and supported each other during the high and lows throughout the week.”
The following day we arrived on site at 7:45 and were allocated our jobs for the day. We were slightly apprehensive about the work we would be doing as we were unskilled, but everyone on site helped, encouraged and supported us throughout the week. We never felt we were a burden and we always felt we were contributing and making a real difference. Aoife was involved in drilling on doors on hinges while Niamh was involved in plumbing assembling taps and baths. Eimear was involved in Plastering for the entire week as she had a flare for “floating” and labouring for the plasterers. Eimear concluded after the hard week “It was a new, exciting, difficult week of hard labour but it was a Phenomenal experience that will stay with us forever”. Grace was involved in painting and enjoyed the comrade antics with the other painters. We took part in shack tour on the first day for half an hour. Here, we witnessed firsthand the inhumane conditions of the shack people have been living in for over 15 years. It was a truly remarkable the hardships these people endure daily. We worked hard with our fellow volunteers for the week for 9 hours daily in temperatures reaching 35 degrees. We were given the opportunity to visit a local Crèche and play with the children. It was devastating to know that the majority of these children suffered from HIV. Grace reflected “ When we saw the kids and the people over who had little or no money, food, shelter, sanitation, or medical facilities, and how the little children suffered with A.I.D.S, we knew that South Africa was in desperate need of the charities help.” It was hard to comprehend how we can complain about anything back home when you look at these people and see how they cope even though they have nothing. Niamh stated that “None of us never really knew of the massive divide between rich and poor until we drove from the airport on the first day and saw both extreme poverty of life in shacks and absolute wealth in Capetown.”
We all participated in a group task of tiling a roof which was one of the most difficult challenges we faced while on site. With the high temperatures and the work load conditions were difficult but we were lucky to have our team mates to help us through. The week wouldn’t have been the same without the people we were working with and the friendships we made. One of the foremen, Mary, decided to paint the Mount Mercy crest on one of the houses. We were very proud of our Mount Mercy house as we were all involved in the building and completion of it. We knew this house will be here for years to come and it would signify our hard work and the other volunteer’s hard work, not just during the week building houses, but throughout the year of fundraising as well.
Overall, it was an experience we will keep with us for the rest of our lives. The volunteers, the locals, the Niall Mellon charity all made it a journey that changed our lives and the shack dwellers life forever. It truly was “building more than houses”.
Download and read this wonderful letter from Pat Durkan,
sent the Mercy’s after the Building Blitz.