Anita, a youth worker and teacher from outside Athlone, shares some of her adventures with MSC Volunteering …
“With our final week fast approaching I am taking the time to reflect and share my volunteering experience with you. Holy Family is an amazing place, Sr Sally and her team have created a family for everyone who comes through the gate. The welcome we received lit up my weary heart and from the moment we arrived we were flooded in hugs and loving little hands wanting to show us their home. I feel such sadness knowing I have only a short few days left with them however I hope to return. An experience like this has opened my eyes and my heart to the importance of, well put simply, love…
Each morning the children, who have been awake since very early are playing games with each other, braiding hair or crocheting among many other things. They see us coming through the quad and it’s a lively loud chorus of hellos and hugs. Each day we arranged a variety of activities and were invited on their occasional days out during the winter holidays. The children were thrilled and excited to be going out for the day, they truly enjoyed it. The morning trip up one of the mountains close by with Fr Vince was a favourite of mine. It was here we were introduced to the splendour and beautiful scenes Mother Nature has to offer and reminded that nature has so much to show us and I was silenced in my astonishment of its vastness and majesty. We are situated close to the Drakensberg Mountains. This is the first lesson I have learned from the children at Holy Family. Make the most from each moment, minute and day enjoy your time together and be grateful to have the opportunities that you are experiencing. These children are some of the strongest people I have ever met and they are so young. The way they embrace each new day, new challenge, new experience without trepidation. Its 100 % engagement in life to the best of their ability. Those smiles will recharge you, reward you, reignite in you your childish sense of play and I began to engage with a new perspective.
The winter holiday programme was a varied one, while we had brought resources with us some of the best times I experienced was sitting down and talking with them, singing with them or yes even dancing (attempting in my case, these littles ones can but the most experienced dancers to shame). There was a dance off one of the early days and it was filled with encouragement and affirmation for each other. They look after each other like brothers and sisters and I feel honoured to have been witness to their kindness and care for one another. There were the few disagreements among them like all children (especially family), however they were quickly resolved. When we arrived there had been a couple of children new to Holy Family so we learnt the ropes together. It was a great way to acclimatise into the rhythm of Holy Family life. The management and staff were great to work with and always helpful. I will miss these wonderful people who bring light and hope to the children’s lives in every way. I found them to be warm, welcoming and joyful. One of my fondest memories will be working with Lily preparing a performance for Mandela Day. We taught the children’s songs and they performed for the local police commissioner and Mayor who visited Holy Family for Mandela day. Donations (which Holy family depend on) were giving by a number of local associations and work was done around the Centre. It was a great opportunity for us to speak to people and get a better understanding of life here in South Africa. I love the tradition here, where on this day people are encouraged to 67 minutes of community service for those less fortunate than themselves. Our own children were encouraged to do random acts of kindness for each other and help out for 67 mins. It’s an inspirational day and Nelson Mandela was a man of strength, courage and determination.
His quote “education is the key to success” is known by all here and it is embraced as truth for all the children. They all attend a local school and once holidays were over. They returned to the regular schedule of studying and learning in the afternoon and evenings. I was blessed to have the pleasure of teaching grades 5, 6, 7, with 8 and 9 in the evenings. Curious and energetic minds thirsty for knowledge, they work hard now obviously some more than others, like all classes. Some of the students need extra support in learning and the staff here do their utmost best to help them. I loved seeing pride in the eyes of the students once they solved a maths problem on their own and how they helped explain it to the others in the class. Team work and helping each other was prevalent in the classroom. We all have strengths and weaknesses but when we work together we all achieve and win.
There has been many moments of love in my time here. It is a time I shall cherish forever and it has given so much to me. I asked one of the girls do they like when the volunteers come to visit them. She said “yes”, because they can teach us so much and show us many new things. It’s funny because coming out here I was focused on what I could teach or impart to them and I am leaving with so much more. They have given me such a strong understanding of family, a wise life perspective and the importance in the simplicity of life, love and kindness.
My parting thought I hope will encapsulate what I have truly experienced here. There was a 4 month baby brought to Holy family the week we arrived, she was listless, non-responsive, malnourished and very weak. After a couple of weeks of care and treatment she is a bright eyed, beautiful, curious little girl with a beaming smile and chuckle. That gorgeous little one was held, carried and cared for and has blossomed. What if we were to apply those actions to everything in our lives? My final lesson: Love is all you need (well not all you need but the rest can be provided). If you have total love in your heart you begin to see things simpler. One of the kids might be upset and the other goes and gives them a hug, reassures them and asks them to join in their game. A simple act of love – what does this person need in front of me right now? Can I provide it? Can I assist them in their procurement of it? What I love is that they don’t think about it, it’s a natural response to a situation because in Holy family they are shown respect and love while being treated with dignity and care. So now this is what they bring with them in their relationships with others. It made me think about how love is powerful, with love in one’s heart the impact is immeasurable. One simple act creates the ripple effect our lives and the lives of those around us. If you wish to volunteer I can promise you an experience you will remember forever. I will cherish my time here and I am delighted that we were supported by Fr Alan and Sr Suzy in every step of the adventure.”
MSC Volunteering is a signatory of the Comhlamh Code of Good Practice on ethical, sustainable volunteering.