Africa

Saturday 2 August 2014

Exclusive: The Irish volunteers changing lives in Cape Town

Jane Last in Cape Town, South Africa

Published 22/03/2014|21:07

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A volunteer gives the thumbs up as he works away on the Mellon Educate project at the Orangekloof primary school in Cape Town, South Africa
Mellon Educate volunteers gather for a briefing on site at the Orangekloof primary school site in Cape Town, South Africa
Volunteers at work at the school - day one of their building blitz

A small classroom which holds up to 60 pupils - and a tiny desk that six students share.

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This is the scene in the Orangekloof primary school, which is school to 1,200 pupils from the nearby township Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town, South Africa, where living conditions are appalling.

In the school, conditions are cramped and resources are scarce but this is set to change in just seven days.

The school is set to be the latest project to benefit from Mellon Educate.

The organisation aims to completely refurbish the school's existing facilities, as well as build a number of new classrooms, a new play area, a toilet block and other facilities.

The funds for this project have been raised through a number of initiatives - but mainly through Irish volunteers, many of whom are this week to get involved in a seven-day building blitz.

After they hand over the finished school to the community on Friday, Mellon Educate will stay involved with the school in the future, continuing to support it and improve the lives of their students.

Mellon Educate was set up by developer and philanthropist Niall Mellon, and is an initiative which focuses on improvements in education for children living in South Africa's poorest areas.

Last year, Mellon Educate transformed a school in a Kenyan slum to great acclaim - now the charity is confident it will do the same here.

The seven day deadline does not appear to phase the 220 Irish volunteers - many have toiled out here before as part of the Niall Mellon Township Trust.

Michele Foley, from Dun Laoghaire in South Dubin, is one of the volunteers on site this week - and the seven day blitz is nothing new for her as this is her sixth consecutive year in South Africa. Her father and younger brother have also taken part in the Niall Mellon Township Trust projects, so this is very much a 'family affair'.

'I spent a lot of time of time in South Africa. I used to live in South Africa and I heard about this just before I moved home.

'And then [my family] were fundraising for it. I have a lot of passion for South Africa

'The first time I did this, I loved it. I think it's absolutely amazing the work Niall [Mellon] has done and it's just great to be a part of something.'

Vivienne Murray, who is originally from Cork but now lives in Wicklow, is heading up the 'Maroon' team this year - they are concentrating on building one of the new classrooms for the school.

The foundations for the new classrooms have already been set by a team of sub-contractors who were working on the site before the Irish volunteers got here.

Vivienne and her team are confident they will have the classroom fully constructed by the time they leave in seven days time.

'This is my fifth blitz. I saw the documentary [about the Niall Mellon Township Trust] five years ago, and I just said 'this is something I want to do' and I did it.

'It becomes addictive - I just kept on going and going,' she said.

There will be little rest for the small army of volunteers onsite at Orangekloof.

While work got underway at this site on Saturday, another 100 Irish volunteers flew to Durban before travelling for several hours to a rural area called Kokstad. There, the team are working on two separate projects, including a drop in centre that will cater for hundreds of children.

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