Volunteering – Why I’m involved with Mellon Educate

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On Friday 6th Nov I will go on my 5th trip to Africa with the Mellon Educate charity. I am delighted to be going again and feel grateful to the many people who enable me to get there.

I initially became involved after seeing Niall Mellon the founder on Irish TV tell the charity’s story, the key factor for me was Niall’s actions after returning from a holiday. I have seen poverty on holiday and felt sympathy, but did very little on my return.  Many people say charity begins at home and whilst I understand their sentiment, I believe it’s great to care about anyone in need. Give time and or money to both and never miss an opportunity to be kind. My personal mantra has always been to give a little a lot.  Although we exist on an island, we cannot ignore the humanitarian issues around the world.

The first time I went to South Africa with the charity in 2009, I found it an emotional roller coaster to say the least, it was hard to reconcile the sights of families especially children living in shacks with so little with life back home. I had often watched Comic Relief on TV but the reality with all the other senses involved was very different. I recall feeling overwhelmed with the world situation and the little effect one person could have. It was good to see the building work take shape over the week and know whilst I couldn’t change the world, I could change someones world. When I was leaving, I already knew that I’d be back on another build.

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I feel strongly about the management of charitable donations and expect the maximum amount to reach the right people. I’m looking forward to all charities being more transparent and the impact that the charity regulator in Ireland will have. As Niall is not a paid CEO and ensures the operation is lean and frugal, I am happily involved. Niall recently spoke at our pre-trip briefing and was inspirational. He ensures we are all kept updated on the charity’s actions, objectives and results. I have been on 4 trips already but find these briefings give me a great insight into the area we will be working in and more information about the needs in their community.

During the week we will be building classrooms and upgrading hygiene facilities in a large Primary School in the Masiphumelele Township of the Cape Town suburb of Fish Hoek. Over the years on the trips, I have worked with the roofers, brick layers, plumbers and plasterers. Everyone mucks in and there is always a job to complete. Quality is very important and again this matters to me. The standard of work is excellent and the trades are very patient working with eager helpers. Security and safety are top of the agenda with risk well managed. We are expected to be careful and take no chances.

The charity began in 2002 and over the next 10 years was involved in building homes in townships. 25,000 were completed and over 125,000 people housed. In 2013, the charity changed strategic direction toward education and is now fully involved in a school building / refurbishment initiative.

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The charity has survived the downturn and I have met so many amazing people on this journey. In particular, the fantastic Eimear who manages the admin all year round. Eimear is extremely capable, warm, positive and is the glue that brings everything together. These people become lifelong friends and with the power of social media, it’s easy to keep in touch. On all the builds, I have travelled with a good friend Mari Humby who is famous in Wicklow for all she does in the community. For sure, this has made it easier as we fund-raise together and look out for each other on the trip.

bandsOur children’s schools get the pupils involved, this year they have been making loom bracelets for the African children and donating the bands that they no longer play with. It is fantastic to get kids to make something for somebody they will never meet. I enjoy taking photos and on my return sharing my experience. I hope I inspire a child to consider a trip in the future.   I would recommend this trip to everybody; you can work at your own level of fitness and it will leave you with life changing memories. Thanks for reading, to find out more visit www.melloneducate.com