Monday 22 July 2019

Education the key to re-building lives

Bill Browne

Two North Cork brothers are set to return to South Africa in November to continue their work helping to shine some light into the lives of children living in a poverty-stricken township near Cape Town.

John Corkery and his brother, Nicholas, are seasoned veterans with the Niall Mellon Building Blitz, which sees hundreds of volunteers travel to South Africa each year to undertake construction projects from scratch in townships. 

This will be the 10th time that John, a carpenter from Kilbrin, has taken part in the blitz, while Nicholas, a bricklayer from Banteer has taken part in the annual mercy mission on seven previous occasions.  

In fact, the blitz has become something of a family affair for the Corkerys, with two of John's sons having joined the team in previous years, while one of Nicholas' daughters, Leah, will be taking part in her third blitz; and another daughter, Hollie, will be making her second trip to South Africa. 

During their trip to South Africa last November, the Corkerys were part of a 300-strong team of volunteers that built an impressive 15 classrooms,  two play areas, four covered shelters, two kitchens, a toilet block, two sports fields and an outdoor gym at the Wallacedene township - all in the space of just six days. 

Speaking to The Corkman about the trip, Nicholas said the team bonded instantly when they met up at Cape Town International Airport.

"That was because we were all there for the same reason, to help change the lives of under-privileged children," he said.  Leah had made such a good impression during her first trip that she was last year handed the role of youth liaison officer in charge of the other young volunteers. 

"My work entailed helping all the young volunteers, co-ordinating the work they were doing, and making sure they were all okay during the week. Some of them were very shy, so it was great to make them feel part of the team," she said. 

During last year's blitz, the young volunteers went to a local school for a day and were shocked to find out that only 139 of the 180 children had shoes, with the others going to school each day barefoot.  

Nicholas said that one child he spoke to came to school wearing one runner and one flip-flop. 

"Although they didn't match, they protected him from catching any diseases. Here, you have a child who wants to go to school and learn and make a better life. He was my inspiration for getting up at 5.30am and working on site till 5.30pm each day," he said. 

The team subsequently raised enough money to buy the shoes for those who did not have any.

Hollie admitted that it was very difficult seeing such poverty at first hand. "It really opened my eyes to see what I have at home, and we take so much for granted, even something as simple as a pair of shoes," Hollie explained. 

"However, the buzz you get from working with the other volunteers, seeing the smiling faces of the children every day and knowing that what you are doing is going to make a huge difference is amazing," she added.