Mellon Educate School Building/Renovation Projects in South Africa
Project Champion: Mr Eugene Power, Lecturer in Economics, School of Business
The Niall Mellon Township Trust charity was set up in 2002 by the former Irish property developer Niall Mellon to help provide housing for the underprivileged people living in the Townships around Capetown in South Africa. Over the 10 year period to 2012 over 125,000 people have had their lives transformed through the provision of 25,000 houses by the charity.
In 2013, the charity moved its focus away from housing to the provision of education to the same demographic and rebranded itself as “Mellon Educate”. Its new target was the provision of greatly improved educational opportunities for 100,000 learners over a 10 year period to 2023. Mellon Educate is well on the way to achieve this target and to date educational projects have been undertaken in Nairobi (2013), Capetown and surrounding rural locations (March 2014), Mthatha, Eastern Cape (November 2014), Capetown (November 2015) and Capetown (November 2016)
I have been directly involved with the charity since 2009 and have been fortunate enough to be part of the Building Blitz each year since then. WIT Meitheal has generously provided funding for these school projects since 2014. These funds go directly towards the fit-out costs of the schools such as the purchase, of school furniture, teaching materials etc.
The upcoming project on November 5-12, 2016 will involve the construction and enhancement of the infrastructure of 2 schools, Ummangaliso and Kuyasa, in the Khayelitsha township of Capetown, by 260 volunteers, 200 of which are Irish. This particular township is the largest in the Capetown area. It has over 1.2 million residents, the vast majority of which live in makeshift shacks
Kuyasa Primary School has 1,500 pupils and we will be building 6 classrooms, a toilet block and a kitchen/canteen area. Ummangaliso Primary School has 1,200 pupils and will be building 7 classrooms, as well as improving the sports facilities; 70% of the children attending these schools live in shacks and 30-45% of them are orphans.
Project Champion Eugene Power says:
“It’s very hard to convey the deplorable conditions that the adults and children of the townships, or shanty towns, of Capetown, or other similar places, exist in. I will never forget the first time I went on a ‘shack tour’ in the township we were working in. The conditions I encountered, the stench of raw sewage, the lack of basic sanitation etc. is something that will live long in my memory.
The vast majority of the residents of these townships live in makeshift shacks that are not watertight and are extremely hot during their warm summer month but freezing cold during their winter months. Typically 5-10 people live in a shack that would be half the size of a standard garage of a 3-bed semi in Ireland. Unemployment is very high, especially among males, and cultural issues often result in women and children being treated very badly. It is no surprise that crime of all types is rampant in these townships.
Notwithstanding all these problems, these proud people are aware of the value of education and that providing an education for their children will give them opportunities that they never had. However, attending school is generally not free and even though we in Ireland would consider the costs involved to be paltry, given the unemployment problems, many parents cannot afford to send their children to school, and those that do have severe difficulties being able to afford basics such as shoes, a school uniform, book etc. While food is provided for the children as part of attending school (it is often the only time they eat properly) some children do not even have cutlery to eat the basis provisions and have to resort to using their fingers!
Their schools, where they exist, are overcrowded, in poor condition (see photographs), and badly lacking in basic facilities that any civilised person would take for granted. Sports facilities are very limited if present at all and it is common to see a group of children playing soccer with a ball made up of paper and plastic tied together.
Despite the deprivation these children face, they go to school in clean uniforms, which is a minor miracle given their living conditions, with smiles on their faces. The welcome they have for the volunteers and the joy in their hearts when we hand over new/refurbished classrooms, toilets, recreational facilities etc. to them would melt any heart and is a truly humbling and rewarding experience that one never grows tired of experiencing. I look forward to being part of the charity for years to come and working with WIT Meitheal to enhance the lives of these children.”
- Eugene Power