Farewell to our dearest Lesotho
We start our journey back this morning filled with so many mixed emotions and satisfaction from a great trip.
Yesterday we returned en masse to Ha Hlalele schools for a farewell concert. It reflected fully our journey here; listening to the melodious voices of the local singers, their musical talents (through the music room they have a drummer in his first year in the school who has taken to a drum kit as if he has toured for years) and American Hip Hop! The world is getting smaller for sure. We did our bit as usual but alas we are in the shadow of giants with regard to musical natural musical talent here.
I didn’t realise that the Ha Hlalale schools had agreed to stay open while we were there and not join the general strike, out of respect to us and our endeavours. This meant there was work for all our groups all through the week.
The concert was followed by the annual football match where competitiveness meets gazelles and yet we always get a result. Twice we fought back to draw level with goals from Sean Church and Alex Andreucetti to bring the game to penalties. In tough circumstances – concrete pitch, 28 degrees of heat and a cow straying into one of the goals – we lost the shoot out!
Last evening then we had wonderful prize giving ceremony by the students. This has become a regular feature but each year is very different as it reflects the personality of the group. Ciara Mullin & Kate Martin organised and presented the awards. The categories, nominees and winners reflected fully the humour, talents, nuances and mostly the collectiveness and inclusiveness of the student group this year. As for Ciara and Kate well the world stage won’t have to wait long to see their talents.
A special (one only nominee!) award went to Ciara Harbison who was nurse, nanny, mammy and most importantly friend to all the students for those fleeting moments were empathy and support cures all ills.
When leaving Hlalale there is always mixed emotions. Joy at the fun and experience of sharing time with the children of Lesotho. Heartbreak at leaving kids who you keep saying to our students how much the will miss them.
Sadness in the eyes of the lesotho kids seeing us go and a longing for some of the material trappings we have as a gift (empty plastic bottles even!!). Although we now have a greater sense of how lucky we are materially we have seen that it is the Lesotho people who have so much more than us in their gratitude for whatever daily life brings them.
A Students Perspective
So it’s the last day and an emotional one to say the least for everyone. A day filled with mixed emotions as the longing to stay and the desire to get back to normal life had some people in tears. For me, and I’d say for others, the hardest part at Ha Hlalele was leaving the kids we had gotten to know so well over the past 10 days.
The fact that they made cards for us didn’t make it any easier but the simple gesture really showed us the impact of what we had done. Thanks to the kids in Ha Hlalele and other schools we have great memories that will last a lifetime.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
A Parents Perspective
On Friday 08 Feb 2019, when I arrived at Dublin Airport, at 7.30am to a sea of green caps, white T-shirts and an air of huge excitement and anticipation, I did not have the vaguest idea of the wonderful adventure we had in store for us.
Upon arriving in Johannesburg, we took off in a convoy of predominantly white vans, Action Trust Ireland logoed and the Irish tri-colour flags flying in the breeze as we headed out, on our 7 hour journey to Lesotho. We had great craic singing our way all the way down, taking in the scenery. I remember us all looking on in horror, at some of the shanty towns along the way – it most definitely a stark reality.
Having arrived safe and well on Saturday, we were all up like larks for Sunday mass. We received the most fabulous welcome and listened to glorious singing from a nation, who appear to be so musically gifted, I am both envious and in awe!
Our fantastic students, put on an energetic and heartfelt performance at the Cheshire Home and indeed, any time they have been requested to get up and sing/dance they do so with enthusiasm and a smile. This was such a highlight of the day, seeing those beautiful residents, singing and dancing and enjoying themselves. When it was time to go, we effectively had to fire up the vans, so the students would follow us out!
I have been honoured to be part of this Project, when we arrived at Laquele School to a rapturous welcome of children everywhere, waving, smiling and high-fiving to beat the band, it was truly the high-light of the trip for me so far. Our team were fortunate to be able to stop and play and enjoy the special time before we headed into class. What we were greeted with for our 1st class was the sweetest 178 little first grade children – all in the one classroom!! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Our lesson was so well received and the little faces when they completed their ‘little duck’ projects and sang with us, was a picture!
The days have begun to blend into one another, and I know it will be with a heavy heart that I will say goodbye to the beautiful people of Lesotho but hope that I will have the opportunity to return some day. I have made some wonderful friends here in Lesotho, and the students have been an inspiration. With young people like these, our future looks bright.
A Students Perspective
One of the main reasons I chose to attend Portmarnock Community School was I had heard about a charity trip to Lesotho. I am so glad I did as it’s been the most incredible experience of my life. The bonds that have been made, the jokes that have been shared and the crazy stories we’ll remember forever.
As it came time to apply for the trip I kept my fingers crossed that my application would be successful and thankfully it was.
The build up to the trips was great, our Wednesday afternoon Africa classes, then over to the P.S.L.C for dancing with Andrea, Thursday evening meetings in the Martello room, all made us more excited as the weeks went on.
After 36 hours traveling we eventually made it to The Kingdom in the Sky, the name really is fitting, the views here are spectacular. Our first day we attended mass and it was absolutely breath-taking, the singing was incredible.
As the projects started and days went on my group ‘de’beenies’ travelled to various schools playing music and dancing with the students, each school we went to we were blown away by their amazing singing and dancing, they really put us to shame sometimes.
What struck me every time we pulled up to a school in our van was the smiling faces we were greeted by. These children with contagious smiles you couldn’t help but be smiling whilst around them. As soon as you would hop out of the van they would run to hold your hand, give you hugs, feel your hair and skin. These children with the happiest smiles on their faces despite how little they have, they live in tin shacks, get one meal a day and many don’t even have a pair of shoes on their feet.
Our base school was Hlalele which was my favourite school, every day I got to go there and teach the students music and have them teach me some songs were the best. However I can’t say I loved any day more than the next. Each day brought new smiling faces and great experiences.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without all the work and effort that the people involved in Action Ireland Trust and the teachers in Portmarnock Community School put in and I’m so grateful to everyone involved for allowing me the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful project.
It’s extremely hard to put into words the impact this trip has had on me, everyone involved and the students and staff in the schools we were working in. To have even been involved in making a little impact on the students in the schools is the most unbelievable feeling. I think it’s fair to say this trip has truly changed a lot of us for the better and the things we’ve seen and learnt on this trip will last with us forever.
As we had our farewell concert today in Hlalele High school there were many tears, but being able to play with the children one last time was brilliant.
There is nothing I would recommend more to anyone than coming on this trip and as cheesy as it may sound it truly is a life changing experience. I’ve already planned my next trip back and promised the students that I’ll see them in four years time.
Thursday 21 February 2019 Project End today!
Time waits for no one, and he won’t wait for me
Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste
Time waits for no one, no favours has he
Time waits for no one, and he won’t wait for me
I never thought I would be quoting Rolling Stones lyrics but the old Master Time has caught up with us. The days have flown by. The projects have worked out really well and our students have put in rewarding and hard shifts each day.
Some of the primary schools have been closed this week to learners as teachers are on strike as they strive for better rights (e.g. as there are many teachers unemployed schools have been told not to recruit any teaching graduates this year). This has not deterred our groups as we have returned to the schools each day and (spolier alert!) parents your children are now accomplished painters and decorators providing colour to what were very drab classrooms.
Our building teams have worked though 30 degreees of heat to have help advance the Early Learning Centre in Hlalele and our students have been busy every afternoon painting after other projects have ended. We installed over 60 computers this week including two new computer rooms in two city primary schools. Our building guys install the wiring, sockets and counter tops and with our partner Camera, computers donated in Ireland have open source software installed (comparable to Microsoft and Apple) with educational software beyond belief. (e.g. 2 million pages of Wikipedia available on each hard drive with the functionality as if you were on the web).
Last night we had a tremendous evening back in the Kick4Life centre. We played combined teams for the first hour and then we had an Ireland vs Lesotho match. Size, age and some GAA steel (Ciaran McCarthy goal) saw us win the day, but to see the academy players play at a speed and skill level way beyond us you could only be in awe of their ability as they dream of scholarships in America and beyond. Our players presented the local lads with Irish Tee shirts at the end ofthe game and we all ate together. By the end of the evening the jerseys we played in (Josh’s dearest Baldoyle colours) were handed over too (we have no gear for our Hlalele game today!!) and it just shows you what this all means to both sets of kids.
Today we head off to Hlalale School for the farewell concert and soccer game and bid adieu for another year. For our own students it has been a trip of a lifetime and their experiences will no doubt be the diamonds they will carry in their hearts in the years to come.
St Angela’s Cheshire Home
The visit to St Angela’s Cheshire Home is always one of the most emotional days on the trip. There are 33 clients living in the home at the moment (age 5-20), all with a physical disability, and a large number who also have mental disabilities.
Action Ireland Trust have been involved with the home since 2013 and we have helped improved the physical environment by renovating the toilets and shower areas, playground etc, and with Andrea and her teams providing all forms of creative and active classes when we visit.
Around 18 months ago St Angela’s only donor pulled out. Since then they have struggling financially which has meant that the standard of care and attention has unfortunately reduced as well as overall morale.
So when the PCS students expressed an interest we thought that it would be really special to give the clients a massive day out and bring them to the hotel for a party. The excitement for the clients when we told them, proved just how much of a big deal this was for them.
From clothes donated in Ireland and from a few extra bits we picked up in Maseru we decked out all 33 in their party gear. We picked up the kids and rode in convoy, the buzz the clients got from this alone assured us of a great night ahead!
When we pulled up to the hotel, vans beeping, music blaring, with all 54 PCS students waiting in a guard of honour, words cannot describe the feeling. The clients had never experienced anything like it and either had I, so much so that it was too much for some of the clients and they had to be taken back outside to get some fresh air before re-joining the celebrations.
Once the initial nerves had settled down I can honestly say the evening couldn’t have gone any better. First up on the agenda was getting to know each other, with the music on and the room covered in balloons the clients were all set to have a brilliant time. One of the biggest shocks for our kids was how much joy and fun the clients were getting out of a few bubbles and balloons – I’ll let the videos and pictures speak for themselves!
Next up we had a bit of a concert, with all the kids performing Rise. Mia and Alanna did a duet, followed by Dearbhla and Leah Irish Dancing. As always this went down a treat with the clients, who couldn’t have been more impressed! After a quick bite to eat it was back to performing, this time the clients were up, they sang for us and did a native dance. All the kids couldn’t get over how “insanely talented they were”.
It was time to wrap up the evening. Each of the PCS kids handed out a goodie bag and a teddy bear. The appreciation and excitement once again showed just how special these kids are, and just how much this meant to them.
Saturday/Sunday 16/17 February
The rain yesterday saw us cancel the morning hike in Malealea as the ground surface was too slippy. This proved to be a blessing as the container arrived at about 11am. The uncertainty of the arrival of our container is an annual event that we have become accustomed to. As Lesotho is a land locked country we are at the mercy of other custom authorities to allow the container travel to the Lesotho border.
With both adults and students still as the hotel the stripping of the container became a fun filled productive exercise of human chain ingenuity!!! The video below from Kenny’s Go Pro captures the efforts of all. This year the contents of the container were focuses on basic school equipment, teaching aids, computers and building materials. The distribution of the contents will form the focus of activities next week.
In the afternoon the students headed to Thaba Bosiu Cultural Centre. This venue recreates the traditional Lesotho village at the base of its most famous and historical mountain Thaba Bosiu. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaba_Bosiu
We had a music bingo evening followed by an impromptu concert in the outdoor auditorium which housed our cultural day in 2016 to celebrate Ireland’s 100th, Lesotho’s 50th, respective anniversaries of Independence.
The students have just headed off on a 2 hour trek to the top of the mountain were the graves of the early Kings are buried. Weather steadily getting warmer with temperatures heading to the hight 20’s.
Friday 15 February 2019 Day 6 Projects
Unusual occurrence for us in Lesotho is that it rained all day!!! It certainly felt (Irish!!) familiar but not a bit cold. It curtailed outdoor work for our sports people and builders but there is always plenty else to be done.
The Valentine’s dinner was nice affair and we gradually took over the venue and had our own Karaoke session. There are some fabulous signers on the trip and a great night was had by all.
A few more videos of our activities will post in the morning. The following video is a snapshot of the wonderful, wonderful people we have the pleasure to interact with each day.
Here are another two stories of the experience here for our students.
A Students Perspective #1
Every day we wake up exhausted but excited for the day ahead. We start the morning off by heading to the pre-school. When we see the 2-5 year olds faces our hearts melted. There smiling faces makes our day. It puts you in such an amazing mood. I think all of us have realized over the course of the week how lucky we are and we should appreciate everything we have.
Today we did arts and crafts with the kids and played with bubbles. It was an experience in itself when you see the kids react to the bubbles. There smiles just light the room up
After we finish at the preschool we go to Lequele primary school. We are in the reception class (4-6). We were shocked how 60 kids could fit in such a small room .The teacher of the class is lovely and really interested in learning all that we can share with her .
We start the class by revising what we did the day before. We went over “head shoulders knees and toes” and did a few more nursery rhymes today. Then we do an arts and crafts activity. We made flowers today the kids really enjoyed themselves. They get so excited by stickers and glitter and every day the children go home covered in them.
We really love seeing how happy the children get from such simple activities.
So far our experience has been so enjoyable and we have learned so much from the children and teachers which we are very grateful for.
Alanna W, Kate, Sinéad, and Dearbhla.
A Students Perspective #2
Today was the last day of the first week working in Saboka primary school. As always we were very welcomed by all the kids when we arrived. Now that Valentine’s Day is over and we are finished making cards and pictures and we are getting into the more educational side of things.
Today we were supposed to go outside and do sports and dancing but the unfortunate weather meant we couldn’t, instead of that we taught grade 1-3 the colours of the rainbow. We taught them the song called “I can sing a rainbow” which they thoroughly enjoyed. After that they all made our own rainbows and we also did some singing and dances after that.
The school closes at 1pm on Fridays so that meant we had time for painting! We got a whole classroom painted with our teamwork.
The most special part of this trip so far is seeing how happy the smallest things you give can make such a big impact and bring such happiness into one child’s life, it’s really heart-warming and so very rewarding.
Niamh Egan and the Seboka 7!
Thursday 14 February Day 5
Well the week is speeding away from us and all the projects are progressing very well. Lots of Valentine wishes from the Lesotho learners to our students today and it seems to be a very special day celebrated in Lesotho.
As for us there is a Valentine Ball in the hotel in the main ballroom this evening to which we are heading off to shortly…..and the sound of hairdryers on the girls floor is almost deafening!!!
To all our loved ones back home Happy Valentines and especially to the Mammy’s!!!!
A Students Account
Alanna and I walked into the trip not really knowing the kind of work we would be doing within the music group.
On Sunday 11th we attended mass. We had heard about the incredible singing that was in store for us and that of course made us very eager to get there and listen.
When the choir begun Alanna and I turned to each other instantly in shock, with jaws open wide. We could not fathom how they were so perfect, every note was pitch perfect. Each song filled with beautiful harmonies and ad-libs. It was truly emotional and incredibly inspiring.
A day out of the last 5 that was the utmost fabulous would definitely be our trip to one of the schools. Alanna and I performed one of our original songs “What About Me Now”. We were very nervous as we both had suffered from dry and sore throats but managed to persevere and we were then delighted with our performance and seemed to have impressed the children. It was a great moment and we definitely both felt very proud of ourselves, although that not being the touching and overwhelming part of the day.
It was when the students of the school started to preform one of their very own songs. The dancing and emotion that was put into the performance stole our hearts.
A young girl began to sing her solo part of the song. Her talent was absolutely effortless. She was confident and absolutely gorgeous. The fact that despite her talent, despite how amazing she is; we are given all the opportunities in the world.
In saying that, the cliche saying that “the world is your oyster” comes to mind. Because without a doubt it really is true.
Mia & Alanna McSweeney
Wedneday 13 February Day 4
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Today was our first proper day of working within the classroom and on the construction site. I was a bit apprehensive on the journey to the school as I was unsure how my lesson plans would pan out but upon arrival I quickly realized how much of a welcoming environment Hlalele primary school really is.
What really struck me is that all of these children have vast amounts of learning potential and the majority are highly intelligent. We took the children through an art lesson which consisted of making flags and sticking lollipop sticks to them so that they’re able to wave them. All of them turned out great.
After our lesson we had our lunch before getting changed to help out on the construction site. At the moment the lads are building a fence around the Early Life Centre so we helped out with that. There were a few measurements that didn’t add up but sure Andy and Aido were able to sort it out as usual.
If there’s one thing that I’ve taken from this trip so far it’s that we all work in conjunction with teachers, native builders etc. It’s not about coming here and taking over from people, it’s about being able to work in tandem with people to make lives for people that little bit better.
Enjoy trying to spot your child and admiring the talent of some of our students in the following videos.
Tuesday 12 February Day 3
All the projects began in earnest today after yesterdays introductions.
A Students Day:
The day started off same as usual waking up at half six, going for breakfast at 7 and heading out to the schools at about 8. I am working in Hlalele primary school. Today was my first day sitting in classes and observing in the primary school.
I felt very welcomed in the school the class that we sat in on was very Interesting because of the way the kids were though. It was the complete opposite to how I imagined education in Africa we nearly spent more time laughing than writing I could see why these kids loved to go to school are always smiling.
After that class we were straight into a bit of construction work. Later in the day all my jobs were done and I was asked to help out coaching football in the secondary school. I loved this, it was crazy to see that these kids were the happiest, most fascinated, hard trying kids I’ve ever coached.
I love it here the feeling you get from the kids is indescribable it’s melts your Heart to see how much the kids love and appreciate you, even yesterday one kid was picking the flies (like labybirds) off of my top and offering them to me as food even the youngest kids will want to be your best friend and for you to sit beside them in their class.
Even though I am already wrecked the buzz the kids gives you energy and you can’t wait for the next day to arrive.
#MapLesotho Official Launch
PCS have been instrumental in literally putting Lesotho on the map or at least mapping Lesotho. This initiative started by Niall Fitzgerald in conjunction with Fingal is been recognised formally this evening.
Tonight’s event is an exhibition and launch of the local Planning project. #MapLesotho has resulted in the country being the best mapped in Africa and forms the basis for future spatial and development planning. Two planners from Lesotho have achieved Masters degrees in spatial planning from DIT Bolton St and three more are currently studying there.
Part of this year’s work will be to work towards a National Spatial Strategy which will inform and guide all future development and local area plans. It is a collaboration between FCC and the Lesotho Government underpinned by a Memorandum Of Understanding running until 2020.
It is s dress up night for all our students and dignitaries by the dozen are expected. With the amazing group of student musicians on this year trip I am sure we will show them the Irish bring when we are away from home.
Day 2 Monday 11 February 2019
A Welcome of Traditions
We have been coming to Lesotho for 8 years and our original project work has been at the Ha Hlalale school. It is spiritual home of the PCS students in Lesotho and the physical manifestation of the investment of Action Ireland Trust in the area and in education.
Today’s welcome was a fabulous presentation of the Lesotho history with the students of the primary school and secondary school dressed in the various tribes and dance cultures.
The opening concert is always impressive not least the ability to get over 700 students into a room the size of the PSLC Martello Room! The primary school kids give our students the greatest lift and impact. Their affection is genuine and they just want to literarily hang out of our students and suddenly there are dances and games with a 100 kids involved. I suppose the only way to describe is that you get play with Santa on Christmas day.
After the welcome all our students had a tour of the secondary school to see all the buildings we have added to the school and the school is now in the top ten results-wise in the country. our students who are based in other the schools left to introduce themselves to their schools.
Nice and sunny today (26 degrees) and the rain stayed away until after 6pm so we got the best of the day (rain is a short almighty deluge with thunder and lightning that passes in 15 minutes). Students having dinner now and the we have Music bingo to end the night.
Today we went to Hlalale school. We got a warm welcoming and the children were delighted to see us. We then got a tour of the school and then played with the children. They adore us. Great to see huge smiles on everyone’s faces. They’ll be happy going home today. Played games with them and sang chants. They loved it. Great to see so many people happy.
Sunday 10 February
We are underway!
There were plenty of tired eyes this morning as the 6.30am wake up calls were made. Naturally a few stragglers held up the show a little but we weren’t too late and were greeted by a fabulous new American Priest on a mission in Lesotho. He gave us the warmest welcome we have had since these projects began and even had a few anecdotes about Ireland… as every American seems to!
After our blessing we went to the incredible St Angela’s Cheshire Home for Children with Disabilities. We’ve never had so many students ask to return to anywhere more than this home! Words can’t really describe so I’m gonna let the videos start doing the work for me below!
(Please excuse and skip the 10 second freeze… can never avoid technology problems)
Tomorrow we have another early start as we head as a full group to our Sister School Ha Hlalele. We will get a full tour of all the developments that have taken place on site since our very first arrival. The kids will share plenty more songs and dance so be sure to stay tuned for tomorrows video
Saturday 9 February
Well Good News!
We arrived safely tonight at 7.30 after 36 hours of travel… not a problem to this year’s students though! We were blessed to have such supportive staff from both DAA and BA to complement the courteous behavior of the students.
Unfortunately we had a weather delay in Dublin and an even longer delay in London but when you are in no hurry there is no drama. Tomorrow morning the 6.30am wake up calls start (that’s 4.30am for you parents at home) and we travel together to the worship mass for our group to be blessed at 8am. Next we go to St. Angela’s Cheshire Home for children with disabilities for our annual ceile. A really unforgettable afternoon!
When we return to the hotel we meet with the teaching staff of the 10 schools to finalise plans and objectives for the two weeks…
For our students, the rest of the day is downtime to recover from the travel.
Thursday 7 February (One More Sleep!!)
This is the page where we will post daily (well … nearly daily!) the activities, photos and videos of the trip.
Just to give you a little flavor the following video is accompanied by a song that the learners from the Sacred Heart School in Flagstaff, Eastern Cape, South Africa sang to us about the blessings in their lives.