News Africa

Wednesday 1 October 2014

It's thirsty work for the Niall Mellon volunteers

JANE LAST IN CAPE TOWN

Published 26/03/2014 | 17:47

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Volunteers hard at work on the site
Karen McArdle
Aaron and Austin

The 220 volunteers with Mellon Educate Building Blitz in Cape Town have glugged on 20,000 bottles of water.

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A thousand sandwiches and a record-breaking 8,000 cups of tea over the course of four days have helped the workers keep on a tight schedule while working on the Oranjekloof primary school near the township of Imizamo Yethu.

By the time they finish their seven-day building blitz on Friday, some 1,300 local school children will have a brand new school.

While spirits are high on the site, it appears the volunteers have brought the Irish weather with them.

Heavy rain and cool temperatures means they’re feeling right at home – more than they should as they are 6,000 miles away.

They work shrouded in plastic ponchos with their hard hats firmly in place. They're Irish after all - so what's a little rain?

The workers here come from dozens of towns and villages across the country.

And each of them have their own stories to tell as to how and why they came out here and what they did to raise funds.

Hairdresser Karen McArdle (42) from Dundalk has raised close to €100,000 over the past ten years for the charity.

Karen, who owns Chaplin's Hair Salon in the Co Louth town, has done a blitz every year for the last eleven years.

She was in Cape Town 12 years ago for a Wella Hair Convention when her tour guide told her about this 'Irish guy called Niall Mellon' who was building houses in the township.

"The people of Dundalk have been so generous," said Karen, who has managed to raise this amount through various activities such as sales and function nights.

She is good friends with well-known band 'Who's Eddie' who have lent their support to her fundraising nights, as have an array of local businesses and vintners.

"I came out 11 years ago for a Wella hair convention and I stayed on for a couple of days afterwards. My parents then came out to stay for a few days.

"We were visiting an area when our tour guide happened to mention Niall Mellon and that he was building houses in the township which was unheard of before.”

The tour guide brought Karen to Imizamo Yethu where she saw the foundations for the first Niall Mellon Township homes.

"I was just blown away by the conditions people were living in," she explained.

After she arrived home, she signed up for her first blitz and hasn't looked back.

"It's very different - the first time I was very nervous. I didn't know anybody.

"When you're getting up for work at home, you're worrying about your hair and make-up.

"Out here, it's a very different story.

"I went from mixing hair colour to mixing cement and it was no problem" she laughed.

"Labouring on site is brilliant - there is a job here for everybody," she added.

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Aaron Hickey (17), from Mungert in Co Limerick, and Austin McMahon (16), from Feakle, East Clare, are the youngest in this year's building blitz.

Aaron is a transition year student in St Clement's College in Limerick - and this seven day building blitz is his work placement.

Thanks to bag packs and table quizzes, the teen reached his fundraising target of E3,500 and is now busy working away on site along with his two aunts Veronica and Pauline Behan.

Austin has been fundraising for a year along with his father Harry who is here on his sixth blitz.

Harry brought along older son Evan (17) last year - this year it was his younger brother's turn and he's been collecting scrap metal for the past 12 months in order to reach the funding target.

Austin is not afraid of hard work.

''I'm loving the labouring to be honest - I can't wait to get out and work every day.

"I'm just trying to keep up with the lads - I'm working with a couple of East Clare lads so they're kind of minding me," added Austin.

Despite their tender years, both teens are toiling just as hard as their older counterparts.

However, they have fallen victim to a few pranks.

Aaron had a ponytail when he arrived in Cape Town last weekend - it has since been reduced to a mere tuft of hair at the side of his neck after his team-mates snipped it off.

"My advice to anyone coming out here next year is not to have an unusual hair cut," he laughed.

Couple Anna Sreenan (26) and Brian Rochford (26), who live in Dublin but are originally from Cork, barely have time to see each other.

Anna, a nurse in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, is working on the medical team on site, but also works on a second team and can be seen plastering and painting when time allows.

Her partner Brian, an IT consultant, is labouring on the site alongside Anna's father Peter (55) who is on his fourth building blitz.

"We're having an absolute ball out here," Anna said.

"We're here to build a school so I haven't seen much of Brian and my dad - but we've a job to do and that's all that matters."

The couple and Anna's father held basketball tournaments, quizzes cake sales to hit their targets. Work colleagues also gave generously towards the project.

"This is my first blitz," explained Brian.

"It's a lot more physical work than I'm used to. I'm normally working in an office all day long but it's a great experience.

Peter Sreenan, a retired insurance broker, is here for his fourth blitz.

"It's very hard work - normally I would be desk bound so it's very different.

"We're having a great time - I've made friends for life here. It's hard work - but it is well worth it.

When asked if he was surprised that 8,000 cups of tea have been consumed so far, he replied; "Well I probably drank 7,000 of those so no, it doesn't come as a big surprise.”

The sun is set to make a welcome return tomorrow - but no doubt a few more thousand cups of tea will be consumed before the project is finished on Friday.

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