School of Life

Last week I was privileged to be with the Mellon Educate blitz in Imizamo Yethu township. An education improvement initiative of Niall Mellon Township Trust, we all learned something in building the school.

It all comes down to people. 350 volunteers from Ireland and the Irish diaspora are here in South Africa to empower local township school children with the tools to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Split across 4 blitz projects in Cape Town, the rural Eastern Cape & KZN, individuals, families and friends have come together in compassion for the dire circumstances in which so many Africans are born. People from every which background and place in Ireland; Farmers, labourers, office workers, business owners, carpenters, plasterers, electricians, mothers, husbands, wives, you name it. Different in so many ways yet akin – Each is here for someone else’s sake, not their own.

This is empathy in action. Change is needed and change is what the volunteers of the Niall Mellon Township Trust are set on. Since Sunday last, the determination has been unwavering. Talk to any volunteer and the sentiment is the same; We’re here to do a job and the job is going to get done. There’s a real sense of solidarity in camp. Each has their own reasons for volunteering, moving human stories of personal experiences, tragedy and hope. They draw parallels with the struggles of the people and communities in South Africa. There’s a bond with person and place, a magnetic connection of shared experiences.

James CoxJames Cox Playground MemorialJames Cox is here on a pilgrimage of sorts, a memorial to his nephew. A cross is erected in the newly constructed school playground in his honour.

Thulani Sinyanya is the school caretaker for Oranjekloof Moravian.All week he’s marvelled at the transformation taking place before his very eyes, and beamed with the gratitude of his flock, the schoolchildren.

It’s only now at the end of the day that he makes mention of his wife, Patricia Noyu, who died early this week some 1000 kilometres away, in Johannesburg. He will travel by bus overnight tomorrow to her funeral and faces the dispiriting future of providing for his three children, Asanda, Bukle & Andizywe, alone. Many of the volunteers on site recall their own grief and grieve with him.
He still smiles and talks of a better future for his children and for the children of this school.

Another thing you’ll hear again and again is that you can’t describe the experience of volunteering with the Niall Mellon Township Trust, you just have to go and do it yourself. There is something about it, an energy that propels everyone forward. Volunteers forge team-mates during the blitz and friends for life. The benefactors from the township learn a new-found respect for people and for themselves. People come together across oceans and social divides, share mutual experiences and break down prejudices.

Ultimately it is for the benefit of the local children but a valuable by-product of this charity’s endevours is social cohesion for all involved. My building blitz experience has restored my faith in humanity and society. It’s a life lesson learned.