One of the first things we learn in Junior school is how to ask the teacher for permission to go to the toilet! Here in the impoverished Eastern Cape of South Africa, the request takes on a whole new meaning.
Mellon Educate, the Irish building charity turned education initiative, is in Nelson Mandela’s home-town of Mthatha this week to honour the Father of the nation and to give the next generation of South Africans dignity and hope for a better future. The Mandela Blitz aims to build better lives through better education, following in Mandela’s footsteps we echo his words “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”.
200 volunteers made a commitment long ago to fundraise without fail so that they could travel from Ireland and across the World to South Africa this week armed with the tools of the trade and a spirit of teamwork inspired by a common goal; to make Nelson Mandela’s dream a reality, to transform construction plans into schools that empower local children to learn and provide teachers the safe and sound environment to teach.
Ngcendese Junior School is located on tribal grounds 50km from Mthatha. The local chief granted Mellon Educate special permission to restore, renovate and extend the debilitated school in his area. The conditions currently are unacceptable, they are intolerable, yet they are tolerated. The classrooms are practically derelict. With no toilet facilities, boys and girls collect at the school perimeter to squat. The school lunch is heated over a lead-wood charcoal fire in a potjie pot made of a cast iron, then served out to 300 children. The meal is generally little more that rice or the local staple diet of corn-on-the-cob, “mielie pap”.
In a major overhaul, Mellon Educate volunteers are revamping the existing structures and building brand new buildings of 6 primary school classrooms and 2 pre-school classes. Children will no longer need to heed the call of nature in nature itself. Two new toilet blocks are being constructed, replete with full plumbing for wash-hand basins, loos and urinals. At last, some privacy, sanitation and human decency. Likewise, a kitchen and dining area will provide a comfortable space for meal-times.
The Zwelinzima school construction project is equally ambitious. 9 primary school classrooms are in construction as well as playground, library and extra-curricular centre, dining room, toilets, septic tank, borehole, pump station and water storage tower. The difference that volunteers are making is staggering. The change is unbelievable, particularly so for the local community, school children and staff. They can’t stop smiling and saying thank you. They express their heart-felt gratitude in their warm welcome and embrace of the charity’s work. Song and dance is a fundamental part of the culture here. We hope you enjoy this special performance as much as we all did.