Monday 18 December 2017

Niall Mellon Trust defies odds to open new school

CELEBRATION: Niall Mellon with schoolchildren at the opening ceremony of St Catherine's School in Nairobi, Kenya
CELEBRATION: Niall Mellon with schoolchildren at the opening ceremony of St Catherine's School in Nairobi, Kenya
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

IN September an Irish charity was forced to cancel a long-planned trip to Kenya in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in the country's capital, Nairobi.

Seventy-two people died in the attack – which was Islamist retaliation for the country's military involvement in Somalia – and dozens more were injured.

At the time, the Niall Mellon Township Trust, which uses local expertise to build facilities for the poorest Kenyan children, raised eyebrows with its promise that two new schools would still be built before Christmas of this year.

Last Friday, the charity made good on part of that claim with the announcement that a new school, St Catherine's, has been built just a few kilometres from the site of the tragedy.

Niall Mellon, the Irish developer who founded the charity, described the new school as a "triumph of construction over destruction".

Speaking at the handover ceremony in Nairobi, he told locals and dignitaries: "I hope this new school has a positive effect on all Kenyans whose lives were affected by the Westgate Mall attack."

The school has 25 classrooms and some 1,400 pupils, each of whom will have meals provided for them. Previously, the school, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, had been housed in a collection of prefab classrooms with dirt floors, corrugated iron walls and as many as 70 pupils in each class languishing in temperatures that often topped 40C.

Explaining the Herculean feat of getting the school opened on time, Mr Mellon paid tribute to the 100-strong local Kenyan workforce, who had "performed miracles".

"Cancelling our 350-strong Irish volunteer trip in October was a big setback to our construction programme and dashed our hopes to get this new school finished by November. But true grit prevailed and our local labour force worked seven days a weeks and got the school finished," he said.

Mellon Educate, the Kenyan Department of Education and the Sisters of Mercy are forming a committee to fund and run the school.

The charity also opened a new building at the Rueben Medical Centre, located in one of Nairobi's slums and which treats thousands of people every year. The second school, which is expected to be completed next year, will benefit some 2,000 pupils.

Sunday Independent

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