Farewell our Friends
Thursday 23 February
Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.
Time has caught up with us and we left Maseru this morning at the start of our journey home. We stay tonight at the Malealea Lodge set in the heart of the lush countryside. On the way into the valley where we are staying we passed through the Paradise Pass which is 2,004 metres above sea level. Stunningly beautiful.
The three videos at the end of this posting look at back on the trip and the fun and the experiences we had. We leave you with the thoughts of one of the first time travelers this year.
In two three, out two three, around, around….
Working in Lesotho this past two weeks brings into sharp focus a range of emotions that are contradictory in nature, swinging from feelings of joy and appreciation to feelings of sadness and frustration. The story below represents a plethora of emotions, emotions that words sometimes fails to represent. Eight pupils from Hlalele primary school represented their school at the farewell concert.
They take up position, each one of them anxious to please. Their sense of apprehension is tangible. They babble intently among themselves, sometimes in harsh tones and wild gestations. Then the music begins.
Their feet shuffle, their arms fall and rise with the music, their posture various as they move into different positions. They make mistakes, they rebuke each other, they start again with even more zest, never failing to smile.
Their bare feet try to capture the rhythm of the music. With some success they dance or rather shuffle. “In two three, out two three, around, around,” they call in unison. They mumble the moves to themselves as a means of ensuring accurate execution of each step. The shuffling sound dominates. There is no stamping or battering as one would anticipate when dancing a set. There is only the sound of bare feet shuffling in dance formation.
“Let us practice again”, they say. “We want to practice. Let’s do it again”, they call. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their energy unfailing. They are consumed with the excitement of dancing at the concert.
One of the dancers excitedly proposes that the girls wear black shirts and the boys dress in grey pants, their school uniform. To produce a battering effect, the pupils are asked to bring their shoes to school the next day, instead of dancing in their bare feet. “We have no shoes”, they say with eyes of sadness.
What an assumption on my behalf that all school going children in this day and age would have a pair of shoes! I fail to count the number of shoes that I possess, the frequency with which I purchase or dispose of them.
The next time I buy a pair of shoes I will think of the pupils in Hlalele primary school who are barefooted in winter and in summer, be it wet or dry, be it grass or mountain terrain.
PS. You can only imagine the joy on their faces when they were each given a new pair of shoes the following day. They danced the set like it was never danced before.
Go dtuga Dia croí agus anam dúinn chun ar gcuid a roinnt go fial leo siúd nach bhfuil móran acu.
Two more sleeps and we are home.
That’s just the way it is
Wednesday 22 February
It was the final day of the projects with the highlight been the final day at Ha Hlalele school. As everyone was pushing ahead with the building and refurbishment jobs the cultural exchange between the two schools reached a high. The annual soccer match took place and this year for the first time the girls played on our team. They were tremendous. Ellen played on after a bloody nose (legend), Emer a total natural, Leah, Amy and Rachel. ..they were awesome… We lost the match against their team of 18 year olds but the performance was outstanding.
This was followed by the debate which is a serious affair over here. For the first year we mixed the teams which was great idea and all our participants dressing in the Ha Hlalele uniforms which was fun. Jason, Jessica, Cormac and Alanna flew our flag with aplomb. This was followed by the concert and thankfully the speeches were kept to a minimum so the music and dancing took centre stage.
It was a hoot with special highlights been two primary school girls joining Maeve and Lorna in the dancing in a two hand reel. Then eight of the Hlalele primary school learners danced two figures of the Sliabh Luachra set (ceile mór!!). Niamh, Siomha and Joe provided lively Irish dance music. Our singing was well up there and the band of Darren, Tom, Sarah, Joe, Arron brought a more contemporary feel to the occasion which the local learners really liked (especially Tom!). As ever the classical singing of the school was astounding. One the female learners sang an classical version of “I have a dream” the Abba song which would blow you away and then Mr Kapa sang “Time to say goodbye” which just hits you where your heart is at that point of time.
It’s hard the leaving.
So many emotions and feelings. From “what are we doing here” to “I don’t want to leave”. Then the realisation of some of the stories of the kids’ lives over here…the number of orphans (Lesotho has the highest incidence of Aids in Africa), the torn clothes, the hungry, the needy, 18 year olds in primary school, what’s ahead for them all and yet none of this diminishes their nature, kindness, humanity and acceptance of the way things are.
Probably the better sense of what this lost feeling is articulated by Arron in the piece below.
Ha Hlalele final day
We came early this morning and was helping construction putting out stones under the new canopy for the classroom with Niamh and Sam until 11. We watched the end of the soccer match and then went to the closing ceremony. The highlight was Mr Kappa their music teacher singing classical, I wasn’t expecting that. In the concert Darren, Sarah, Tom, Joe, Jason and myself we did Wagon Wheels and then Sarah and Darren sang No Diggity. I was nervous about that as we hadn’t really rehearsed enough but it worked out.
Then we were saying goodbye to everyone. It was hard to say to goodbye to the ones I knew from doing the music classes with. Also to see them play as a band in the concert when they hadn’t played an instrument until last week it was so encouraging.
One of the senior students who I had been teaching last week and we had become friends talking about different things, told me this morning his parents were in a car accident at the weekend (rain) and his father had died and his mother was seriously ill in hospital. I didn’t know what to say at first and then realised I hadn’t seen him this week and then I hear this and I was very shocked and both of us were emotional. Then after the ceremony I gave him my hat and he was saying he would see me next year and I was explaining I wouldn’t be back or at least for a few years.. …so we exchanged WhatsApp numbers and he said good bye for now and I repeated that back to him but knowing that I wouldn’t actually see him again…
Then after we left in the van we picked up some of the primary school children and were given them lifts and by chance we happened to see him on the road which was mesmerising and I hadn’t expected that. So we stopped for him and after we dropped the other kids off along the way he pointed out to me where the accident happened. I felt terrible…and when he got out of the van I felt I had to say goodbye and I rushed out after him.
He had said to me earlier that he had to pay the taxi fare to travel to the hospital see his mother. It was hard when he first told news and it was hard to saying good bye…it was a lot to take in….He hadn’t any other brothers and sisters so I was happy he had some one to talk to and wasn’t carrying it around with him. We hugged a few times and I was able to give him the money I had left from buying gifts in the school…..it is a helpless feeling not knowing how to help and knowing what he is going through.
Arron Harris Yeates
Funny when Arron had got back in to the van and he shared what had just happened the song the girls had playing at the time was a modern song sampling the Bruce Hornsby song “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change”.
Tuesday 21 February 2017
The rain has come and that definitely was not in the brochure. It is helpful in keeping sunburn and hot weather away but still far better than a rainy day at home. The only impact has been on the roads but by and by it has caused us very little disruptions.
Last night we had a race night as our entertainment and it evolved into a fundraiser for Sister Augustine in the Cheshire Home and M20,000 (€1,300) was contributed by us all. The home has definitely affected the hearts of those of us who have spent time there.
Amazingly tomorrow is the end of the projects….time flies here…and there are many closing ceremonies and events planned across all the schools as we say goodbye for another year..For the Mammies back home 4 more sleeps and we will be home!!!
A day in the life…
Today, i was supposed to go to Hlalae high school but the weather was the bad we were unable to use the roads, instead our van went to Saboka and myself Emer, Alannah and Rhea did music the the grade sevens, we sang songs to them, showed them irish dancing and then they sang a song to us, they were amazing. at about twelve a clock the weather cleared up and we were able to go to Hlalae, although me and Emer had missed our sports classes we still went around the classes and did music and listened to the school choirs rehearsals. after that a few of us sat in the car for a while because it was raining but then we were scouted by the builders to help them out, we were reluctant at first but then we realised we wanted to get socks (the builders coveted award). We put the ceilings on and eventually four hours later we got our well earned socks
18-19 February 2017
The students and some of the adults travelled to Thaba Bosiu on Saturday as a chance to have a change from the confines of the hotel and also to see more of Lesotho.
The Thaba Bosiu cultural centre is a tourist development built as modern day replica of a Lesotho Village. This is the location we hade the major cultural event last year. It was great for the kids to have space and a venue to wind down after the weeks’ projects.
The kids went on a mountain trek to the see the burial grounds of the Kings of Sesotho but the highlight was later that night the impromptu dancing in the outdoor amphitheatre. Great fun and energy was expended!!
On the Sunday we travelled cross county to visit the Caves. The Caves are now a tourist venue where you visit the 3 families who for generations have lived under a cliff and also you get a sense of village life. Walking back up to the cars we got our first taste of rain!!! It’s is no way as cold as home but the impact on the back/dirt roads is immense as the water rolls down from the hill.
The building teams worked both on Saturday and Sunday and the Education team hosted another seminar with the teachers of the local schools whose enthusiasm for personal development is endless. You may have noticed the SA TV clip form Friday that corporal punishment is no longer allowed in Ha Hlalele and along with the positive teaching methods we have brought this has helped improve both the exam results and the school environment.
The IT project this year sees the roll out of a further 35 computers across 7 schools. Through the computer project it has impacted 122 teachers and 4,400 students in 13 schools. The project started in Ha Hlalele and then the primary school teachers in the surrounding schools gave up some of their holidays to get the computer training at Hlalele and this in turn has driven the desire to have computers in their schools. This Action Ireland Trust initiative has now reached 13 schools across Lesotho and both the education training and infrastructure support has seen numbers grow in these schools each year.
Today we brought computers to two schools in Buatha-Buitho 2 hours north of Maseru where our builders have set up two computer rooms in the schools last year (well done Noel you are missed!). One year on it is heartening to see these class rooms fully in use and the commitment to grow the use of the computers after school hours too for teenage and adult education.
Its funny but the computers represents something more than just a tool for learning for the learners here and their parents. Each place we install them the first people to use them are ALL the teachers. The former Minister of Education joined us today as we were visiting schools in her area and she said that the IT is like a little stone and the ripples go very far…she said you cannot imagine the appreciation the parents have for these developments.
Special mention for Callum and Dylan for their help in the roll out and installations.
On Thursday the 16th of February myself and Emma Tuthill travelled to Roma hospital with Dr. Colclough and Tom. When we first arrived we were greeted by the builders who showed us into their room where they had a small kitchen. We were given a tour of the hospital by the head doctor and a few of her colleagues. We were given the option of going to the physiotherapist clinic or into the walk-in clinic with Dr Coclough, we chose to go into the walk in clinic and I think it was a good choice as it was extremely interesting. The first patient we met suffered from aids and many followed with the same disease. It was really upsetting seeing all the sexually transmitted diseases and life threatening illnesses amongst all the people. We also went into the paediatric clinic and got to help and play with the children who nearly all suffered from malnutrition. Overall it was a very fulfilling and interesting day.
The atmospheric photos in the following video were all taken by Darren Keane.
Saturday 18 February 2017
Seeing more of the country
Yesterday saw the official ceremony of the turning of the sod of the next Action Ireland Trust initiative in Lesotho with the building of an early learning centre at Ha Hlalale. The Minister of Education performed the duties and allowed for a formal event held outdoors.
Last night the full travelling party watched the videos from the blog on the big screen in the hotel. It is always fascinating to watch them whilst here as the time passes so fast it is easy to forget some of the experiences and achievements to date.
Today we have moved with the students outside the city to Thaba Bosiu which is now a national monument containing the burial grounds of the Basotho chiefs. We are staying at the cultural village which has been developed as an example of Lesotho trying to build a tourism industry.
As for the building teams… it has been a normal work day at the sites as they seek to push on all the various projects.
Project Update: Cheshire Home
Cheshire Home wet room project. This my third trip and I am part of an exceptional team who are charged with converting an old run down bathroom into a stylish and modern wet room. The Cheshire home is a facility that cares for children with severe disabilities. This is my first time to work here and upon an inspection visit prior to commencing work we were shocked to discover that the home had its water supply cut off due to lack of payment. However with the help and generosity of Action Ireland this was quickly remedied and the project got under way and under the expert guidance of Dave Connolly, myself, Tom Collins and Brendan Healy the new bathroom is becoming a welcome reality.
Friday 17 February 2017
Another lovely day in the Kingdom in the Sky. The landscape is a lovely compliment of rugged stone, dry soil and greenery. The sky and the horizon seems endless and the days so wholesome that you would love to rob a piece of tomorrow for today.
The people themselves are very graceful, caring with beautiful complexions smiles, smiles and smiles. Their gentle spirit and sense of family and community is inspiring to witness. With what we would consider as so little they have happiness and gratitude that money and wealth will never be able to match.
The container rolled out some of the shipment today a with the schools in particular benefiting with worktops for the computer rooms and desks and chairs for the classrooms. One school had just benches which doubled as desks with each double bench being used by one person who then used the beside them as a desk…the sight brought a couple of our mothers to tears.
Another thing noticeable in the primary schools is the age of some of the students. In the school we were in today there about 20 children aged between 14 and 18 in the sixth class. Free education in primary schools is only in Lesotho for the past 10 years so kids who missed out going to school early now go, and in other cases it is due to family circumstances. Though in the true spirt of family and community they all happily fit in, grateful to be receiving an education.
We went to fit out the computer room in the school. In some classes they were short seats as they had used the benches as shelving by stacking them on top of each other, so we put in shelving for them. Tony hopes to paint the rooms on Monday so we will be leaving it in good state. The goodbye event they put on for us today was unbelievable and humbling.
Colin and Paul
Finally the day came when we could make progress on putting in the irrigation.
This will make a huge difference to the school in that they will be more than self sufficient in providing fresh veg for the school kitchen.
Huge thanks to Paul Kunkels an ex pupil for his donation and support.
Thanks to Darren Kane and Brian O’Shaughnessy for their help also. Can’t wait to see the water flowing.
As well as the normal what’s happening video below there are two special videos. The first is also a remarkable video of our arrival at Ha Hlalele School taken by a drone!!!
As well as capturing our reception along the way to the school it gives you a glimpse of the countryside and its unique beauty.
The second is a news cast from South Africa news crew which followed us for the day (with a nice touch of humour on our the part of our builders!!).
Thursday 16 February 2017
28o degrees today!!
Well everyone seems to be a buzz with their projects and they are all going well. For our kids working with the primary schools seems to be the most rewarding and the openness and love shown by the school kids towards us definitely affects our kids and makes the total experience so rewarding.
The container was unloaded to-day just in time so that it didn’t impact on any of the project plans. On the medical and sustainability video below there is a picture of the offending crane lift that delayed the unloading. The same video also gives you an insight into the level of infrastructure in place and the health services available.
The success of our partnership with Ha Hlalele is that the number of learners has grown to over 500. This has put pressure on classroom facilities and they are short classrooms. With the container delayed Damian Kane organised one of the building teams to convert the old kitchen and storeroom into a classroom which will be ready before we leave!
Project reports from the teams for the blog have been slow so hopefully we will have more info tomorrow. Today’s update is from the swimming team (remember Lesotho is landlocked so being able to swim is not common) and a video follows to show you the fun of it all.
We arrived at Seboka primary school on Monday afternoon after an amazing and emotional welcome from the Ha Halele school students. There are 650 students in Seboka primary school and every single one of them greeted us with open arms and big smiles. They sang and dance for us and they also performed a short play and recited poems.
Each day we have a different program with different grades this can include teaching them dental hygiene, jolly phonics, arts and crafts, maths and Irish. We also play games and do sports with them at lunch time.
The first video below offers a glimpse of some of the projects. The success of the partnership with Ha Hlalale school is that their numbers have grown to over 500 and the are short classrooms again. With the container delayed Damian Kane has got one of the building teams working on converting the old kitchen and store into a classroom which will be finished before we leave
Each afternoon we return to the hotel to teach students from Ha Hlalele high school to swim. On the first day they were all quite excited but nervous and as the days go on they are becoming more confided in the water and are having lots of fun with us and each other. They are picking up the swimming very quickly. On the last day they will hopefully be moving from the shallow end to the deep end.
We are all enjoying every minute of this amazing experience and we have all grown in ourselves.
From the A++ team Karyn Murphy, Laura Herssens, Sarah Eccles, Rebecca Herssens Grace McKeever, Karl Ryan, Sam Corcran, Alan Daly.
Day 4 Wednesday 15 February 2017
So last night turned out to quite a lavish affair as the hotel invited us to the Valentine Ball they were holding in a different part of the hotel. The room was dressed as it was a wedding reception and there was entertainment and great food. It turned out a great occasion and suited the attire of the students on the night. Birthday girl Emma Chalkey was called up on stage for her birthday cake.
The container has been made accessible to us this evening so plenty of activity tomorrow!!!
So a few updates below…no videos tonight as we have been preparing for quiz night with the kids so plenty of videos tomorrow.
The Plan in Action
Tús maith leath na hoibre
I had the great pleasure to travel around and witness our education Team in action in 7 different schools yesterday.
Valentine cards were the order of the day and brought many a smile to all the Lesotho children.
It was encouraging to see our volunteers and students work our plan so well. We were playing music, dancing, swimming, singing, skipping, playing football, hurley and badminton in all the 7 schools visited.
The hours spent gathering materials and planning lessons in Ireland has really paid dividends and I am really proud of the huge commitment shown by all.
This lovely Irish phrase says it all
Tús maith leath na hoibre – A Good start is indeed half the workload.
Day 3 Tuesday 14 February 2017
Projects Up and Running
All the projects are now off the ground. In the norm that we have become accustomed to our best laid plans often go askew on the trip. For the first year the container has arrived on time but the lifting equipment at the depot has a puncture that requires a new tyre, which has to come from SA, and our container can’t be accessed. It is very frustrating for the builders waiting for the materials but always something happens that reminds us that the reason we are is because here is different from home!!
Over the coming days both the adults and the students will be giving updates on their experiences and on the projects themselves.
There are three videos below which will bring you up to date with events so far. Specials mention must go out to three of the students for bringing their unique talents to bear at the Cheshire Home on Sunday. Jess Burke not only got the party started but even had Sister Augustine showing her moves (though in fairness it didn’t take too much encouragement) and also Joe Julian Grace and Jason Kennedy were great in accompanying Brian in the music. It was a smashing start to the week.
Tonight our kids are all dressed up for our annual meal with the Archbishop which is always fun.
And for the day that is in it…to all our loved ones back in Ireland Happy Valentines
Delighted to be back for the 5th year in St Joseph’s Hospital Roma.
The hospital looks fantastic and the hospital maintenance team were over the moon to see us. They have done a great job maintaining the hospital. Working with the team we plan to re-roof the TB ward, install stainless steel units in the kitchen and paint the children’s ward and verandas.
The medical team began their programme with Dr Colclough and Eleanor Ryan today visiting two child care centres in Maseru where they screened children aged 0 – 2 and updated their health and development records. This will continue again tomorrow.
The facilities are of a very low standard and are a cause of serious concern.
Action Ireland Trust will commence the construction of a new Early Child Development Centre at Ha Hlalele on Thursday with the Minister turning the first sod (sounds like Ireland!!!)
Ha Hlalele Primary School
Today I started working in the Hlalele primary school. This was our first day so we observed the classes to see what the level of English and the learning ability of the kids was like. When classes ended we went to the construction site to help and I really enjoyed working on the site.
Day 2 Blog 13/02/17
Ha Hlalele Schools
Blog is written today by Cormac
Another beautiful day today, minus the brief thunderstorm, in the Kingdom of the Sky.
Today the group trekked to Hlalele high school to attend a pseudo-opening ceremony,where they were welcomed en route by students. The welcome was raucous, and incredibly moving, as the appreciation and joy in the faces of students was priceless.
Then students from Portmarnock sang their national anthem followed by the students from Hlalele singing the Lesothan national anthem. The volunteers were then dispersed around their assigned projects and there was great success
Over all. Some students taught music in Hlalele itself, while others got their bearings in schools further afield. Construction continues to proceed well, as the builders get to work repairing buildings and making alterations. The trip is doing amazing work, and will hopefully continue to do so.
Due to computer problems no videos uploaded today.
Day 1 of the Projects Sunday 12 February 2017
Mass and the Cheshire Home
Well it didn’t take long to get immersed in why we are here…to experience the wonderful people of Lesotho and share the goodwill of folk from many miles from here.
It is probably best described by one of the parents on the trip:
….As first timers we left the hotel this morning with an air of anticipation and excitement. Because we arrived in the dark last night we were blown away witnessing the poverty on the drive up to the Cheshire Home.
We attended Mass at which the singing was amazing, it would make the hair on the back of your head stick up. When we left the church there were lots of kids outside all looking to have their pictures taken with us. They were all so happy. It was so emotional seeing how happy they were with such a simple gesture. When we left there we went to the Cheshire Home.
It was the most amazing and emotional experience of my life.
Brian started the singing and spontaneously all the students and adults got up and started dancing with the kids. These kids all have disabilities with many in wheelchairs. It was a very proud moment to see the smiles on these kids faces and equally the enjoyment our students got from the experience. Some of our students and adults were reduced to tears. The dancing continued and the room got so hot we moved out to the courtyard to continue our dancing and singing.
On the way I heard several comments from our kids, all emotional things like “I never wanted to leave” or “the best day of my life”. While travelling home in the car in convoy we received smiles and waves from all the people on the roadside.
I can honestly say it was the most emotional and rewarding day of my life. Can’t wait for tomorrow.
To see our kids have no inhibitions or self-consciousness from the get go is very heartening. The Cheshire Home is a remarkable place, originally set up by an order of nuns from Canada. Sister Augustine is a force of nature (and a great dancer as you will see in the video below) and the work they do is remarkable. Later in the week we will give you greater insight into the Home, the work and the fabulous kids.
Simultaneously the education team were having their meeting back in the hotel. From Michael McGlynn and Niall Fitzgerald organizing every detail of the first meeting 6 years ago to today where the meeting was run by the Maseru teachers and the staff of the 7 schools we work with… They have certainly come a long way.
Tomorrow the projects start in earnest. Everyone will travel to Ha Hlalele where the primary school and the secondary school traditionally welcome us with great pageantry, pride and fun so lots to look forward to.
Saturday 11 February 2017
WE HAVE ARRIVED
We have arrived safe, sound and a little tried!!. From leaving Dublin at 9.00am Friday to arriving tonight at 9.00pm it has been a long journey. The two flights were excellent but it always difficult to get a decent sleep sitting for 11 hours. Administration issues held up the car hire which added a delay to the day but there are 42 smiling faces here now settling into their rooms.
Tomorrow morning we head to mass on the other side of Maseru to St Joseph’s Church for 8.00am mass (that’s 6.00am back home). Their gospel choir lights up a celebration of all things to be grateful for and our children will be singing also. Then we walk a short distance up the road to St Angela’s Cheshire Home for a welcome party from our young friends there. We will take it easy the rest of the day so we are fresh and ready for the start of the projects on Monday.
One More Sleep!!
Thursday 9 February 2017
Welcome to the 2017 Blog
We hope to update the page each day between 6pm and 8pm with updates and videos of the activities.
So in the meantime happy packing and see you all in the airport tomorrow.