Our journey began in Shannon Airport as we embarked on our quest to go and support Missionvale in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The flights were long and we were all tired from them. We arrived in Port Elizabeth on Sunday the 16th of February and received a very warm welcome from the people of the Care Centre and the Township. There were smiles all around and everyone was so exhausted from the flights but this welcome made us all forget about the tiredness we felt and cheered us all up and re-energized us. We spent the day at the lodge all 32 of us getting to know one another and everyone got along which was great, it was like we were one big family. We also visited the tree where Sr. Ethel had started Missionvale and from where it all began. We then got our working clothes on and had an early start on the Monday morning, having to be out of the lodge at 7:00 a.m.
We left the lodge and were prepared to see the poverty we were told about and were expecting people to be unhappy in the uncertain conditions they lived in. However it was the opposite. Everyone was so happy and grateful for what they had. Sister Ethel and her community workers greeted us at the Missionvale gate and were singing and dancing and it was so nice to see the joy they had as they knew we were here to help in any way possible. We all got our badges and were put into our working groups and set off on the different tasks we were assigned to whether it was being in the garden or out into the Township.
We all set out with the same ambition and frame of mind, which was to help as much as we could at Missionvale. Everywhere you went to work the community workers that were in charge and there helping Sr. Ethel were so nice and looked after every single one of us. It was great to see these people so happy and positive towards life and so grateful for things that we take for granted at home in Ireland. As the week went on we learned new things, whether if it was how to say hi in the Afrikaans language, or learning from and about different personalities or even learning how to play chess with the young children in the primary school. I can tell you now that they beat me and also every one of us who thought we could beat them. It just shows that these kids are being well educated thanks to Sr. Ethel and her volunteers. It is great to see this because it gives some of these kids a future or a dream in life which they might achieve if they work hard for it and also inspires me to work hard for things at home whether it’s in school or on a hurling field.
While I was in Missionvale I made a friend called Soso, who was a young man in his twenties and he was so interested in our own cultural sport of Hurling, and wanted to teach this sport to the young kids. I think this is great because these young kids will know the Irish culture and be able to play our sport. As the week drew to an end things became emotional having to say our last goodbyes to all the new friends we made with all the staff and kids. None of us wanted to leave as we all wished we could stay. Unfortunately though we couldn’t and we would have to return home. However, we all knew individually we had left something behind, whether it was our friendly smile, or our positive attitude or even donations like hurleys and clothes. We knew we did all we could to help these people who live in abject poverty. This journey has been a real eye opener to me personally. It has thought me so many life lessons and has showed me anything is possible in life just like sister Ethel proved to everyone who doubted her. She is such a magnificent person and I am so privileged and honoured to say I have met her and talked to her. She is such an inspiration to so many people.
What Sr. Ethel has done for these people in poverty is truly outstanding. She has given them all a dream and hope and I think that is the best gift anyone can give to another person. I personally hope to return again and continue to help Missionvale Ireland and Sr. Ethel to make it a better place for those living in it.