Musings on my Visit to South Africa
Posted by Maureen Egan on 22 Nov 11
Travelling “The Rocky Road to Dublin” before flying to South Africa I felt daunted by what I had willingly volunteered to do. Briefly my mood matched the dismal rain, would I be a worthy volunteer?
My mood began to lift as I witnessed the last part of President Michael D. Higgins’ cortege on its way to Aras an Uachtaran. I felt better about it as Ireland beat Estonia by a resounding 4-1. “Is Feidir Linn” became my motto. On being met by a welcoming party at the airport in Cape Town, one realised how much the arrival of the Irish volunteers meant to the local people. It was extra special to have Niall Mellon personally welcome all the volunteers, whether first-timers or veterans.
The same “Welkom” awaited us as we arrived at Witsand township located some distance from Cape Town. Our bus journey to the township takes us through fields of golden stubble and bales of straw, with ostriches, wonderful horses and prize cattle, Table Mountain is in the distance and the gashes of green one sees in the distance are vineyards, reminding one of South Africa’s growing wine trade.
What of the volunteers themselves? There are over 600 of them, most of them Irish, with a sprinkling from Australia, Canada, Scotland, Wales, England etc. There are three Congolese visitors on our team, anxious to learn how the model of NMTT works, with a view to using it to tackle the acute housing crisis in the Congo.
Ta siad ann, idir fhir agus mhna, idir og agus sean o gach contae sa lir, some are skilled craftsmen, giving of their best. There are no GOBANS among them. There is an indefinable quality to this week that calls forth the best in people. People have discovered talents they never knew they had. There is a huge outpouring of goodwill with people willing to tackle whatever needs to be done. Nowhere is the “Power of One” more visible. There is no age gap as young and older work together in harmony. It is inspirational to see two or three generations of families taking part.
If one did not experience it, it would be very hard for many Irish people to envisage over 600 volunteers getting our bums up at 7am for a long day’s unpaid volunteering work. They are a colourful spectacle with ten teams, each with its specific coloured t-shirts, most in loud hues of lime, blue, orange etc. The only complaint I have heard is from those who heartily dislike the volume of water one needs to drink to avoid dehydration! Old friendships have been renewed and new friendships formed during this glorious week.
What may not be fully realised is that the Blitz is just part of the work being undertaken here. Local craftsmen are being trained. The painters currently painting newly built houses in jewel colours are being awarded their training certificates on Thursday. Others are being trained in Johannesburg.
All this work could not be undertaken without the efforts of the volunteers and their families, the sponsors and the high regard in which the NMTT and its personnel are held. The efficiency and effectiveness of the work are facilitated by the brilliant organisation which underpins the work of NMTT. It is very easy to take this level of organisation for granted; it is however the result of efficient planning and operations, wonderful staff and an insistence on rigid quality assurance and quality control.
At times, one may feel that things have changed utterly in Ireland. In altruism “one could not shake a shrub without finding an Irish missionary priest” in the words of the parish priest of Atlantis. This same altruism is however being exhibited in another form by NMTT. It is a source of interest to the social media including 2fm and Hector.
What of the future?
The recent history of this township points to a future of hope. Those who have houses for the past few years keep them beautifully. Some have taken up gardening and one sees some vegetables being grown in the soil of the barren variety referred to in the Bible. This development has been life changing and has enabled and will continue to enable, people to change their lives for the better.
An urgent need is for schools in the township. At present, local children must travel miles to attend school. I feel certain this development will take place sooner rather than later. Although the week of the Blitz is not for the faint hearted, I will leave here with a sense of solid achievement that I have helped to provide housing for very needy people. I will also remember it for the friendship, camaraderie, wit, the saving grace of irreverence and the “craic” of our people, while achieving a huge output of work.
Ta me thar a bheith broduil as mo mhuintir ar an o card stairuil seo. Go soirbhi dro daoibh agus go gcuiti dro iad.
For myself, it is also a major challenge knocked off my Bucket List.