Missionvale 2019 – Devlin Staunton

Missionvale Reflection 2019 – Devlin Staunton


In March 2018, myself and four other students, were chosen through an interview process to go to the Missionvale Care Centre in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In September we began our fundraising, receiving many amazing donations through bake sales, quiz nights, a GoFundMe page, bag packing and even kind anonymous donations. We fundraised throughout the year until February, when we began the long journey to Port Elizabeth.

   On arrival it was hard to believe we would be going somewhere where families lived in shacks, or tiny compact houses with little to no food or water, sick and dying. We were staying in the built up part of Port Elizabeth, brimming with restaurants and shops along a beautiful beach, a perfect tourist hub. The first day we went to the Care Centre, as we drove through all this I began to think the centre was going to be a few hours’ drive away, but as we continued the drive I realised I was very wrong. Not even ten minutes down the road I began to see the change. 30 minutes later we were driving through the Township where shacks, broken down houses and sheds, and rubbish spread as far as the eye could see.

   It was a shocking sight, but not near as surprising as the welcome we got when getting off the bus at the Care Centre. The workers in the Care Centre and any locals around were thrilled to see us including Sr. Ethel. As we got a tour around the centre and met the different people, their happiness and positivity was incredible. They would sing and dance and make jokes and this positivity shone bright throughout the whole week.

   During the week we were tasked with many different things. We would be working in groups in the different sectors of the Care Centre. Whether it was gardening or giving out food, organising clothes or helping to teach the children, every section I worked in is so memorable. I will never forget certain things, like when I was in the Nutrition Centre giving out food and parcels with soap and just seeing the food supply start to get lower and lower. There was a risk that the food would run out but no-one ever lost positivity or was angry or rude. Of course the workers did everything in their power to make sure everyone got something to eat and it was wonderful to see. Another thing I did that will forever stay with me, was when we went out into the Township. It was so heartbreaking to see all the run down homes and rubbish everywhere. Adults and children were wandering around in their bare feet and tattered clothes among dogs, goats and cattle. Families of 10, 11, and 12 are living in tiny compounds the size of a small room. The sick have given up and don’t want to take the medicine although it will help them get better. But again, happiness prevails. They welcomed us into their homes with open arms and smiling faces. We travelled throughout the community with a band of incredible women who not only cared for the people of Missionvale medically but also connected with them on a personal level. They would not only visit them for a quick check up but they would talk to them and make sure they were doing ok. They were truly amazing women.

   The main thing I will 100% never forget is the children. Every morning as they were going to school, if they saw us they would run over and jump into our arms. They had so much energy and were so happy to see us and more importantly were so happy to go to school. It was so heartwarming to see them learning with such enthusiasm although it was early and a lot of them travelled far to get to the Care Centre’s school. We helped them learn and would play with them on their areas and after school teaching them not only with books but with sports also. They were so eager to learn about everything including us as people.

  When we left Missionvale it was so upsetting. The workers thanked us for our help and we thanked them for helping us learn about the completely different world they live in. We said goodbye to the children who seemed heartbroken and of course to Sr. Ethel who is and will forever be a truly inspirational, remarkable woman. She is so strong in so many different ways and is, in my opinion as well as many others, a walking saint. It was an unbelievable, unforgettable trip, a life changing journey, and I will never forget it.

Missionvale 2019 – James Power

Missionvale Reflection 2019 – James Power.

My experience of Missionvale was just unbelievable. From the 15th of February to the 26th of February 2019 were the most enjoyable life changing moments of my life and will always stay with me. It has been one of the best weeks of my life so far. It all started off in Shannon on the 15th and that’s when our journey to Missionvale began. When we arrived in Port Elizabeth and got settled in and seeing the wealth of the city and knowing we were so close to the Township I was rather confused at how it could change from wealth to severe poverty in such a short distance. I was really looking forward to Monday to just see the Township and get there so I could get my head around the difference.

Driving in that Monday was scary seeing poverty everywhere and kids everywhere going to school squashing into mini-busses first thing in the mornings. What came to my mind was how we could find a way to sort this out for them. For example, getting the rubbish up, getting dogs, cattle, sheep and pigs out of the Township and to house them in a home for themselves? I wondered how, throughout the week, we would get to know the people there and experience the Township more. By the end of the week I just didn’t want to go home. I week was too short helping the people who care so much for everything you do. I continuously said throughout the week that I didn’t want to go home to my teacher but I wasn’t messing. I wanted to stay and help and give more of my time to the people of Missionvale. It’s such a life-changing experience and I would encourage people who are thinking of going to go. They won’t regret one bit of it and hopefully soon enough I’ll be able go back myself.

Missionvale 2019 – Dylan McMahon

Missionvale Reflection 2019 – Dylan McMahon.

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.

Missionvale 2019 – Alison McGee

Missionvale Reflection 2019 – Alison McGee.


I can honestly say that the week I spent in Missionvale has been the most challenging, humbling, life-altering experience I have participated in to date. However dramatic it sounds, every minute I spent there was a revelation. It is hard to put into words the unquestionable effect this trip had on me, but I will do my best. It was an eye-opener that gave me new insights into poverty, wealth, privilege, joy, hope and love. The Missionvale Care Centre is the epitome of hope.

On our first day driving to the Centre there were various things that caught my attention along the route. I cannot emphasize enough the contrast between wealth and poverty. You look out the window and one minute you see beautiful houses along the beachfront, KFC, McDonalds, next minute, there are piles of litter so high they could pass as buildings. You see animals roaming around; cows, dogs, goats. You see shacks and find it incredulous that these dwellings are actual houses where people live. You notice the wires coming from every direction where the people have tapped into the electricity poles. The graveyards with a blanket of rubbish creep up on you as you drive by. Yet among this poverty, singing emerged. We arrived at the Care Centre, looked outside to a welcome bursting with song, gratitude and happiness. One thing that I couldn’t get over while on my trip was just how tactile everyone was. As we got off the bus every person wanted to hug you or hold your hand and honestly it made me feel so welcome and appreciated. My first day consisted of a tour around the centre and a brief history, working in the gardens and working in the youth centre. We walked to the tree where Sr. Ethel began this amazing journey with this community 31 years ago. We were told about the story behind the tree and everything it represented. This tree is the embodiment of the Missionvale story, which is why it is one thing I’ll never forget.

I found it easy to integrate with the children. Every time they saw any of us they would run so fast you’d think their legs would fall off. I loved that when they would see you, they would smile and wave, sprint towards you, jump up and wrap their hands around your neck. It hit me with a feeling of joy like I’d never experienced before. The children wanted to know my name and they would keep repeating it until they had perfected it. They wanted to take pictures of me and of themselves and of their friends. Once or twice I talked to some of them and they would say something that was quite hard to hear. One boy asked me if both my parents were alive and was utterly shocked when my answer was yes. It’s hard to understand and believe how death could be such a normal thing to children so young, but it is. On our last day in the Centre we were saying goodbye to everyone and all of the kids were scrambling to get something to remember us by. One of my friends, Malayzi, asked could she have my socks so she would never forget me. A thing as mundane and simple as my socks was all this girl wanted. I’ll never forget that.

One thing that really struck me was, one day, we went on home visits with the community care-workers and we went to one particular house where the woman living there was dying. She was near to death, perhaps a few weeks from it, but she invited us into her home and into her room where she couldn’t move much because she was bedridden. She used so much energy explaining to us, through tears, how happy she usually is, sitting up and making jokes. However she apologized for her appearance and form because on that day she was in too much pain. I couldn’t understand how someone would apologize to foreign strangers for not being in a better mood, but that’s the way these amazing people are. They care about us even though they don’t know us.

My week in Missionvale consisted of singing, laughter, tears, guilt and appreciation. Singing every morning at devotions was incredible. The workers in the Care Centre would sing songs of hope and thanks to God and anyone who has helped them. Laughter usually followed anytime we attempted to sing a song, but there was one or two good renditions of Travelling Soldier and Ireland’s Call. Our last day in Missionvale was characterized by tears, tears of joy, thanks and sorrow. Guilt was something I felt a lot of. Guilt and privilege were hard to deal with when you saw how little the people had but how happy they were to have it. However guilt is a useless emotion if dwell too much on it. I tried to turn my guilt to appreciation for everything I have.

Finally Sr. Ethel, she is a walking saint and the epitome of greatness. She is kind, loving, formidable and strong. She has built a community like no other. My week in Missionvale has been one of the best times of my life.

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