Killeeshil father and daughter team help build African school

Welcoming the children to the new school
Welcoming the children to the new school

Charity is in their genes: a father and daughter building team from Killeeshil have helped transform the education and livelihood of children in a remote South African slum.

Leo Holland and his daughter Joanne joined forces with Mellon Educate, an Irish charity which has organised a school building blitz in impoverished parts of the African country.

The duo have just returned from their charity mission in the heart of Nelson Mandela’s homeland, Mthatha, assisting in the building of one new school and the refurbishment of another along with 250 other Irish volunteers.

“The schools in the Eastern Cape are generally in a terrible state of repair, lacking basic facilities, cooking and toilets. Classrooms are often no better than what we would term cowsheds”, said Leo, a retired teacher himself.

“The smiles and gratitude on the faces of the children when the buildings were handed over made the hard work and sacrifice worth it.

“These children have ambitions to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers, and we are confident that the better facilities provided and the expert educational backup of the charity will help them achieve their ambitions.”

Leo described a typical working day as beginning at 6.30am and ending at about 6pm, with the teams working in temperatures as high as the low thirties centigrade.

It was a valuable bonding time for the father and daughter team.

“We wouldn’t have had that chance to work together in our normal lives”, he said.

“I knew that Joanne was up for it, even though she has no construction experience. She is a good, hard worker and I couldn’t have picked a better person to go out with.”

Leo described the experience as a transformative and one that provides valuable lessons for today’s materialistic society.

“I would recommend any young person to take part in this charity scheme”, he said. “When you see people with very little, showing such joy and gratitude it changes your life.

“Really, none of us know what hardship really is until we go to a place like that and experience it firsthand.”

Interestingly, Leo said there were about 14 father and daughter teams within the volunteer group, all bringing what skills they could to the project.

Joanne has taken part in three building blitzs, and even postponed her honeymoon in 2011 so strong was the draw to help this part of Africa,

“The work is hard and the days are long but actually seeing the money people back home so generously contributed transformed into homes and schools right before your eyes makes it worth all of the effort. To have carried out a blitz this year with my Dad has been a dream come true and an experience I will never forget.

“It is really difficult to impress upon people at home the difference in the lifestyles of the people we help through the charity. We can show photos and tell stories, but nothing can convey the tiny scale of the shacks we have replaced, the stench of them, the stifling heat and the quiet dignity of the people who reside in them.”

Mellon Educate is an international volunteer-based charity that has embarked on a 10-year initiative to provide educational assistance for more than 100,000 of Africa’s most impoverished children.

“I will never forget the excitement of these children when we handed over to them their new schools, places where they could be safe, sheltered and comfortable. People question why we bother trying to help a problem which seems so insurmountable, but if everyone took that stance then nothing would ever be achieved.”

Joanne and Leo expressed their gratitude to the people of Killeeshil parish, who so generously donated, supported and prayed for them.

The charity surpassed its previous target to provide homes for 100,000 homeless people in South Africa’s townships.

This was made possible by the collective efforts of more than 22,000 volunteers who helped to complete 25,000 houses for more than 125,000 of South Africa’s poorest.