Monday 23 April 2018

Some 200 Irish volunteers 'deflated' that President Higgins cannot visit their school building blitz

Niall Mellon
Niall Mellon

One of Ireland’s well-known philanthropists Niall Mellon has said 200 Irish volunteers will be “deflated” because President Michael D. Higgins cannot visit them while they’re building new schools in South Africa.

President Higgins is currently on an official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.

From Friday, the volunteers taking part in the Mellon Educate school building blitz in Nelson Mandela’s homeland of Mthatha will build two schools for the children in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

The Mandela tribute blitz will take place over one week.

Niall Mellon told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny that the charity contacted the president on November 4 to invite him to visit their building site in Mthatha.

"We couldn’t believe our luck – the week he’s in South Africa is the week we’re in Nelson Mandela’s village.”

“He’s a great supporter, a wonderful man ...  but he declined coming and that is what it is.”

“My volunteers will I’m sure be a bit deflated... but I’ll say to them I’m very certain that President Higgins is very proud of all of you despite the fact that he’s not coming on this occasion.”

Rose of Tralee winner Maria Walsh will be one of the volunteers taking part in building blitz next week.

Read more: Rose of Tralee winner to take part in latest Mellon school building in South Africa 

Mellon Educate aims to improve education conditions for 100,000 children over the next ten years.

“In most schools in South Africa the entire pass rate is less than 20pc.”

“When we reached our target in housing, we reached a crossroads...and I announced with [South African] President Zuma our target is to provide education for 100,000 children.”

The Mellon Educate program is teaching schoolchildren and teachers in maths, literacy and arithmetic.

“I see the enormous appetite for learning from these young children... parents who are the poorest of the poor – their one desire is to see their children get an education,” Niall Mellon told Pat Kenny.

“Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful tool in the world... and I thought it would be a deserving tribute to him that we the Niall Mellon Educate Initiative would build schools in his village.”

While in South Africa, President Higgins will make a speech on human rights at the University of the Witwatersrand and give an address at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus on the opportunities for South Africa 20 years on from the first democratic elections.

Read more: Higgins trip to African countries 

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