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There's a place in Africa that calls Naomh Abán House home

Baile Mhúirne natives Elle O'Sullivan McCarthy and Dan Desmond have just returned from Thika, a village in rural Kenya. There they have been involved in building an orphanage for children whose parents have died of Aids or simply not been able to look after their sons and daughters. This is just the latest in a series of trips which began in 2003 when Eleanor set off on her first adventure. Here she and fellow meitheal member, Dan Desmond, talk to The Corkman reporter, Concubhar Ó Liatháin

When Elle O'Sullivan McCarthy was just 21 years of age she decided she would go off on a mission of mercy to help out in St Mother Theresa's House in Calcutta but when she reached the Indian city she felt that she would get in the way more than anything else and when she heard that there was an orphanage in a rural area that was in need of assistance.

All Elle had when she landed in the Indian mega city was her bag and a Lonely Planet guidebook, and she freely admits that she was so set on her mission that she mightn't have been sufficiently focused on the dangers of her journey.

A young woman or anyone travelling alone by bus at night isn't recommended in India, or anywhere for that matter, but Elle was undaunted and continued on her journey to the orphanage which was located way up in the mountains.

When she eventually landed there, she found that the person running it was doing so merely to collect government support and none of that appeared to be going to the children. They had no beds, they were sleeping on concrete floors and had no nets to keep the malaria carrying mosquitos at bay.

"I lived there for six months and then when I came home I went back and forth," she said. "People from Baile Mhúirne would know I was going and they'd drive up to the house with money and when I came back they'd get their picture of what had been done and they'd know the money was going directly to the people who needed it.

"I kept going there for a few years - they began to call me 'Mammy' and eventually I felt they were doing alright and I wanted to go to Africa."

In 2011 she first went to Africa, it was more or less a case of 'winging it'. When she landed she was unsure what she'd do but she spent a night in a hostel and heard of an orphanage in a rural area where the woman running it was struggling and really needed help.

And that's what brought her to Thika, an area around 90minutes in a jeep from Nairobi Airport.

There she found Mary, a retired teacher and widow, looking after up to 20 orphans in a rented house and she resolved to help them out.

The main challenge facing Mary was paying the rent every month and feeding the children. She was getting no help from the state at all and she was relying on the kindness of her neighbours, which, in fairness, was forthcoming but it was a precarious existence.

As far as Eleanor was concerned, the priority was to build an orphanage for Mary so she could provide a permanent home for the children Mary was looking after. When she left after a few weeks, she paid the rent for a few months, left them with some essential foods and told Mary she would come back in a year's time and help again.

In 2011 she brought over a traditional meitheal with her - Gary Lynch, Abán Ó Riordáin and Dan Desmond - and this time they built and roofed a house that would become known as Naomh Abán House, after the local GAA club in Baile Mhúirne.

I was able to point out to them that Naomh Abán himself built her settlement for his more famous sixth century contemporary, Naomh/Saint Gobnait, and was renowned for his building acumen.

Dan Desmond, who is a local school busdriver in Baile Mhúirne and Carrigadrohid, was back to Thika with Eleanaor on her latest trip, said that was all they could do in the time they had and Eleanor added: "That was all we could afford to do."

"The way they live there is educational - most of the men do nothing," said Dan who told of seeing the men sit around in makeshift shelters at corners of roads and the likes while the women were busy washing and cleaning and cooking.

"On the roads you will see motorbikes carrying anything from three piece suites to tvs or, in one case, we saw a bike carrying four young children on the back of it."

"When the children come home from school, they immediately change and then wash their school clothes in buckets," he said. "They have a spare uniform hanging up for the next day."

During their latest trip they managed to connect the house to the mains for water so now they have running water in the showers and toilets and in the kitchen. They also fixed the chutes on the roof of the house to collect the maximum amount of rainfall for reuse.

"Water is precious to them," said Dan. Before they left, they bought the children good leather shoes for use going to school.

"The four of us will probably go back," said Dan.

Elle herself is thinking of heading to India on her next trip, to go back to the orphanage she first started her work in, to see how it's going.

She's very grateful to the many local people who come to her house with donations or the benefactors, including local and national businesses and a well known wealthy businessman, who chip in with their contributions. Local pub, The Mills, has hosted charity nights to support her also.

"Everything I'm doing I really couldn't have done without their help."

Little moments like when one of the girls first tried the new showers and expressed her delight to Elle mean a great deal to her and signify that the work she's being doing has had an impact. Some of the children who were in the orphanage in Thika when she first arrived there in 2008 are now in third level education and are themselves contributing to help Mary out.

"It's great to think that there's a place in Kenya called Naomh Abán House which people there are calling home," she said.

Corkman