He has built 11,000 houses for some of the world's poorest people, but now multimillionaire property developer Niall Mellon says he is facing his own uphill battle due to the recession.
However, the man who spearheaded the largest building initiative by a charity in South Africa won't be deterred in his single-minded goal to alleviate the grinding poverty of the townships.
Speaking candidly to the Irish Independent in Cape Town this week, Mr Mellon admitted the economic downturn at home has hit him hard and, like other success stories of the property boom, he is "struggling to survive".
But working in such an extreme environment as the townships, where a person is lucky to see their 43rd birthday, HIV has infected 70pc in some communities and children as young as three are sleeping rough on city streets, has led him to re-evaluate the Celtic Tiger obsession with money.
"When you have held the hand of a little child living in a shack and talked to their parents and seen the incredible emotions that are generated when these families finally move out of a shack and into their homes, it's very hard to be driven to simply accumulate material things to the same degree back home," he explained.
'The past year has personally been a difficult one for me. I lost most of my wealth in the property downturn and I'm now back struggling to survive," he said.
Seven years ago he stepped back from much of his business activities to devote himself to the Niall Mellon Township Trust. It is his property developing which has enabled him to work full-time and as unpaid chief executive.
"I've gone from having big equity with loans I didn't have to worry about, to smaller equity and loans I do have to worry about and that's business and I wouldn't have it any other way.
"When you're in business to a large level you're at the cutting edge and you have to take the swings and the roundabouts. I believe in Ireland, I believe in the Irish economy and I also believe that we are talking ourselves into a worse recession than needs to be the case.
"I'm in a good place in that I have a beautiful family of young kids and every single day I'm involved in positive, life- changing work with my charity and this gives me the strength to deal with any business issues," he added.
Rather than scale back on the charity work that takes up 90pc of his time, he has instead found himself working longer hours, reluctant to hand over the reins of the trust that bears his name.
"I'm an all-or-nothing person and I've given everything to this charity and been rewarded 20-fold. It's a very special and unique and humbling feeling to be supported by your fellow countrymen and women to the extent that I have ... and I have seen the thousands of families whose lives we have changed in South Africa," he said.
Mr Mellon will shortly complete construction on the 29-storey Meridian Tower in Swansea, which will become the tallest building in Wales. He is now considering business opportunities in South Africa where his charity's social- equality philosophy will be carried on.
"In the UK and Ireland, the areas I was making an income for myself have largely dried up, so I'm going to have to look at new opportunities to try and build an income."
Irish Aid gave €5m in grant funding to the charity last year and Mr Mellon said he will shortly be making a submission for some form of headage grant support to help volunteers, each of whom must raise €5,000 to take part. The trust received a further boost this week with the news that the US Senate has cleared the way for it to be considered for US aid funding.
"None of this would have happened without the collective image of thousands of Irish volunteers working with us. And I am really proud for all our volunteers that their sacrifice and hard work has been endorsed now by one of the most powerful governments around the globe," he said.
When it started in 2002, Irish builders and tradespeople were the life-blood of the charity, however, they have now been eclipsed by unskilled volunteers who account for 90pc of those on the current 'Building Blitz' in the township of Mbekweni outside Cape Town. And, in a first for the charity, women outnumber men on the trip.
"This is the first real test of the change in the Irish economy," said Mr Mellon.
"The Irish construction industry is in meltdown, so it's very, very hard for tradespeople in particular to even think of giving a week of their time when really so many of them are just trying to find enough money to pay bills at home."
However, by employing experienced South African labourers from the townships to work alongside the unskilled Irish, he has been able to up his target to get 6,000 homes built in 2009.
'All my South African native construction workers and my management team are full of praise for the incredible hard work the Irish people have put in, and particularly the participation of the women.
"You don't have to be a high-flying person, you don't need X, Y and Z in academic qualifications and you don't even need to be a tradesperson. You simply need to have a desire to help another human being," he added.
His businessman's approach to meeting deadlines and driving projects can be seen in the charity that runs like a well-oiled machine. Over 2,000 volunteers took part in the previous Blitz at the end of last year, building over 250 houses in the space of the week. This week 500 volunteers worked in temperatures of over 40 degrees to build 75 homes.
"I'm a very simple and straightforward person. I like to take a target and achieve it and get on with doing it," he said.
And he admits to pushing the charity to the "absolute limit" with ambitious targets for both the number of volunteers recruited and the number of houses built.
"When I made a public call a couple of years ago for 2,000 volunteers that was double the easy option. I believed we could achieve it, and we did. The most important thing for me is 'What's the number of houses we built?' Ultimately, I have been vindicated by the 11,000 houses we have managed to build."
Despite reaching this milestone, he said he has never spent "two seconds" celebrating, instead the relentless drive to build more rolls on.