Leah's school of life lessons
Mallow schoolgirl Leah Corkery spent part of her Christmas holidays helping to build classrooms amid dire poverty near Cape Town in south Africa
"It was a week of blood, sweat and tears," said Leah Corkery describing her recent trip to South Africa as part of group building schools with Mellon Educate.
Dromahane native Leah is 17 and a pupil at St. Mary's Secondary School in Mallow. Her father, Nicholas, and uncle, John, have been making the annual trip to Africa for several years but Leah's first visit has made her even more eager to continue volunteering and she is planning a return visit next year.
"We were based in Khayalitsha near Cape Town, where there are 2.4 million people living in an area the size of Mallow," Leah explained.
"We built classrooms and playgrounds on three different sites.
"Meeting all the children and seeing how grateful they are for all the hard work we did in just six days makes you realise that they deserve every bit of it, and more. This trip has taught me not to take things for granted here at home."
Leah has also decided to sponsor a little native girl through the rest of her schooling. Meanwhile, Leah's father, Nicholas, explained how the work done by Mellon Educate makes such a huge difference for so many families.
"It really touches the heart and makes any troubles I might have seem very small," he said.
"This year I brought along my daughter, Leah, to let her see how good we have it here at home and on the first morning driving to the site she cried for most of the journey while looking out the window where all she saw were 10ftx10ft shacks as far as the eye can see. The locals call them homes, no one should have to live like that."
Every year, Mellon Educate organises their now renowned "building blitz" trip to Africa for volunteers from all over the world to travel and lend a helping hand building better infrastructure in poor African communities. In conjunction with the South African government, we've housed 125,000 local people in high grade permanent homes, replacing dilapidated shack living conditions.
Since 2013, Mellon Educate has set about improving access to better standards of education in African townships. To date, the charity has built 16 new schools and renovated many more, providing over 10,000 young children with a better chance at life.
Leah's uncle, John Corkery from Kilbrin, has been volunteering for many years and said that for him it is one of the greatest weeks in the year.
"We work with like minded people who want to help the poorest of the poor in the townships of South Africa," John said. "I would encourage everyone to go at least once. The people are so grateful for the little we do for them and anyone from the ages of 16 to 75 can volunteer."
"My dad, uncle John and I want to thank everyone who supported us for our trip to South africa. It was an absolute privilege to have been out in Khayalitsha with 290 other volunteers," Leah concluded.