In January, I got the opportunity to volunteer in Missionvale Care Centre in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Missionvale Ireland is a non-profit organisation founded by Sr. Ethel Normoyle, who left her home in Co. Clare to help this township resolve their desperate poverty. in 1988, Ethel came to Missionvale in the hope of providing love and medical care to the destitute population, especially the high percentage living with HIV/Aids (1 in 3 in the township are HIV positive). The care centre’s origins began under a tree in the middle of the township, which was uninhabited as it was believed the ground here was cursed. A small match box was passed around one day while Ethel cared for the sick and any pennies people had were donated. This simple act would lead her to ask the Irish for help so she could provide facilities for Missionvale, and so the care centre with a church, doctors clinic, school, nutrition centre, Santa’s workshop (which supplied 6000 presents to children last Christmas) among others were established.
The hardship experienced by these people is unimaginable and what is truly humbling is their positive attitude to life. Outside the walls of the care centre there is certainly an eerie atmosphere. accompanying the medical assistants into these shacks cannot be fully described in words. I don’t ever think the smells, sights and feeling of being there will ever leave me.
Sr. Ethel is a remarkable person and it is through her kindness and generosity that the Township is getting the facilities it desperately needs (something the South African government should be doing but chooses to turn a blind eye). A group of volunteers go to the centre every January to aid with new projects that need to be completed. I mostly worked in the garden (digging through concrete soil- not fun) which now has a new irrigation system to allow the vegetables have a continuous water supply counteracting their serious drought. If ever you have the time and means to visit Missionvale or indeed another township in South Africa, Go! It broke my heart to say goodbye to the children there who love playing with you, trying on your sunglasses, getting their picture taken and giving you a ‘stylish’ new hairstyle. They crave affection, something they obviously don’t receive at home. The centre is in constant need a funds and support and Sr. Ethel and the people of Missionvale simply loves to see new and previous volunteers.