| 1.8°C Dublin

Unemployed Irish giving hope to African children

Who would have thought that the spectre of unemployment could have an unexpected upside? For The Building of Hope Project, it has uncovered heroes.

Builders, accountants, block-layers, doctors, nurses, plumbers and people from every walk of life who have faced the plight of being out of work are busy preparing for the trip of a lifetime to Africa, where they will bring a happy ending to a heartbreaking story.

"We are hoping to get more professionals for January 2012, but we also welcome people who are willing to take up a brush and paint or to sweep and clean. There's a role for everyone and for both sexes," said project co-ordinator Olive Halpin, a Clare woman who had the vision of hope and out of that grew the Building of Hope Project.

Irish volunteers with the Building of Hope Project have already completed two building projects in Africa in the past, a medical treatment centre in the township of Port Elizabeth in South Africa and a polytechnic in Mombasa, Kenya.

"The children are getting a basic education but the conditions in which they live are appalling, with primitive washing and toilet facilities, almost no cooking or laundry facilities and uneven ground and broken footpaths outside, where they constantly fall and injure themselves. Some of these children are Albino and have had to be rescued from families who hid them behind locked doors, fearing that a curse had been delivered on a black family with the birth of a white-skinned child," said volunteer Bernie English.

With plans for January 2012 already being drawn up, they will provide a modern, hygienic living and working environment, designed around the needs of the children, with safe pathways, comfortable beds and a proper kitchen. It's even hoped that the Irish volunteers will leave behind a scented garden which the children can enjoy.

"The ethos of the Building of Hope is to provide facilities which will be self-sustaining and this has really come together following the building of the polytechnic and the plans for the school. The dressmaking students at the polytechnic are already busy making curtains and sheets for the new building at the school for the blind and the 50,000 blocks which will be needed to build the new accommodation and school are being made by local people, paid for with the registration fees of those volunteers who have already signed up," said Olive Halpin.

Many of the people who have already signed up to be volunteers for this project have lost their jobs but, according to Olive Halpin, "despite their own worries, they are generous enough to look at the possibilities and find they have something to give and that gift is to make life so much better for these beautiful children who have so little".

But with 200 volunteers needed and a €3,000 contribution from each volunteer, there's still a long way to go.

Some Irish communities are fundraising to send a local tradesperson as a representative of that community to Africa next January and February.

"It would be absolutely fantastic to see every county in Ireland represented on this trip. You would have to be made of stone not to be moved by these lovely children. However bad things are here, however frustrated we feel, there is a way we can make a real difference and that is to volunteer or support the volunteers on this project. This is a life-changing experience but it's also one of the happiest things anyone can ever do. Typical of the Irish, the work might be tough but the craic really is mighty," said Bernie.

Over the years Derek Davis has been instrumental in hosting charity auctions and charity balls, with all proceeds going to The Building of Hope charity. According to volunteers, he has stirred great interest in the project and they feel very privileged and grateful to have such a celebrity on board their fantastic team.

To learn more about the work of the charity and to see the children and conditions at the school for the blind, go to www.buildingofhope.org.

For further information, contact Bernie English on 087 2738817.

Sunday Independent