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Saturday 20 September 2014

And so the day has come - Mellon volunteers hand over new school to Cape Town's children

Published 28/03/2014 | 19:07

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The official handover of the newly refurbished Oranjekloof primary school to the community
The official handover of the newly refurbished Oranjekloof primary school to the community
The official handover of the newly refurbished Oranjekloof primary school to the community

Pressure. It’s something that Mellon Educate volunteers know all about.

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They have put themselves under pressure throughout their seven-day building blitz.

And with just hours to go before the official handover of the newly refurbished Oranjekloof primary school to the community, the pressure reached new heights.

The 220 volunteers went on site at 6am – and worked at speed for seven hours painting, cleaning and getting the last touches done before the official handover.

They wanted the school to look it’s best for when the schoolchildren came to visit at 1pm – and they weren’t letting them down.

The school caters for 1,300 schoolchildren from the impoverished township of Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town.

By lunchtime,  tools were laid down and the volunteers waited on the verdict from the young pupils.

They weren’t disappointed – the pupils yelped with joy when they saw their new playground, garden, newly refurbished classrooms and toilet block.

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Irish volunteers Dorothy and Malachy Toman from Lurgan Co Armagh with two pupils at the opening of the Oranjekloof primary school Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town which they helped refurbish. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Construction on eight new classrooms and a new toilet block has been completed by the Irish team – South African sub-contractors will now finish the snag list next week.

Hard work and pressure aside, the work done by the 220 Irish volunteers will radically transform the lives of these impoverished children through the power of education.

That was the message delivered to them by the principal of the school which has been transformed beyond all recognition in the space of a week.

Altogether, 330 Mellon Educate volunteers finished their work on four different education projects in South Africa – a primary school in the township of Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town, and three educational projects across a number of different rural locations near Kokstad in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Earlier today at the official handover, the school principal of Oranjekloof Moravian Primary School wept with joy as she told Irish volunteers how much their work will mean for the 1,300 schoolchildren there.

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Pupils celebrating after the cutting of the ribbon at the opening of the refurbished Oranjekloof primary school Imizamo Yethu,Cape Town at the end of the first Mellon Educate Building Bltz.  Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 “These are tears of joy for what you have done for these kids. I am so grateful,” Principal Lungiswa Makae told assembled volunteers.

“What you have done today, nobody else could have done but you have sacrificed your time to come here and change the lives of these kids.

“If you give education to these disadvantaged kids, nobody can take it away from them.

“I really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart,” she said.

“Every single obstacle went against you. The weather went against us. The challenge was already almost impossible to complete the target for the week,” Niall Mellon told the volunteers on site.

“This has to be one of the most memorable and treasured moments of your lives.

He said the children’s lives “will truly begin from this day forward. Every one of you should treasure this moment and what you created this week”.

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Irish volunteers and pupils celebrating at the opening of the refurbished Oranjekloof primary school Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

This evening, some 100 Mellon Educate volunteers flew from the Eastern Cape flew to Cape Town. They completed three different educational projects in rural areas for ‘Friends In Ireland’, the charity founded by RTE broadcaster Marian Finucane and her partner John Clarke.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, CEO Niall Mellon paid tribute to the volunteers.

“It’s been an astonishing week. I can’t believe that at the end of this short but long week that hundreds of South African schoolchildren have had their lives changed forever. I would like to particularly thank the Irish people who supported the volunteers.

“We’ve had 130 towns and villages around Ireland represented here in Imizamo Yethu and I hope other people will decide to experience the magic of a one week blitz with Mellon Educate and Niall Mellon Township Trust.”

For most of the volunteers, it’s back to the daily grind come Monday, although they will be carrying some aches and pains following their week long labour on a construction site.

Volunteers were due to fly home from Cape Town on Saturday night – no doubt they’ll have a good long soak when they arrive home on Sunday afternoon.

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