Africa Calls
Volunteer in Chekalini

From a Volunteer in Chekalini


nerea mongeinkenya

I am going to be honest. I don’t want to have children, I never wanted to and I think I never will. That doesn’t make me less of a woman (although in Africa people think you are less of a woman if you are not a mother; and it is still a long way until this will change). Maternity should be an option, not an obligation.

Nevertheless, the children at ‘Madeleine Home School’ have changed my perception of children. Yes, I was often afraid of children. I have been working in rural places in Africa for more than 4 years and I met lovely children but also mean ones. I was a very sensitive kid, so I was often the target of the strong ones. So I developed a bit of a fear of children.

To work in a rural hospital here is not easy, especially when it comes to children. You often see severely malnourished children coming to the Health Centre and people expect a miracle to happen. When that kind of case arises, I just want to run away and never come back. But later I reflect and I always come back. This is what Africa has done to us. People full of contradictions with love and hate on the same coin. Yes, this article is maybe a bit tough, but I am just telling the truth. I am tired of ‘joy and meaningfulness’ articles about African volunteers that only stay less than a month. So the truth, the hard moments we all go through, also need to be told.

The first day I crossed the pathway to meet children with special needs at ‘Madeleines Home’, I felt a bit scared. I was scared of not to being able to handle the situation well and not being able to reach out to those kids. Life here often surprises you in ways you cannot imagine, and this was one of this cases. All kids greeted me with a big smile and also hugged me very tight. I automatically felt safe with them. They never called me ‘Muzungu’ (the Kenyan word for white person) they called me always by my name. I am Nerea, the girl, woman, who carries toys for them and has a strange colour. They even call me ‘mamma’ which really melts my heart.

Another thing that has stunned me is how happy they are. They are truly happy, I feel so small and weak in comparison to them as I wouldn’t be like that at all. They are giving me a constant lesson of maturity and happiness, and show me how to cope with what life can bring. If I have a rough day at the Health Centre, I just walk over there and they always welcome me with big hugs and smiles.

My work at the Health Centre is also very good as it is more focused on the mobile patients, so there is never too much workload or stress and there is a very good atmosphere. I have been here now for more than 8 months and what I like is that my colleagues accept me the way I am. Yes, I am not always an easy person. I have a temper at times, and after losing it I always regret it afterwards but it is my nature. None of them seem bothered; in fact, I think they like to see that I am a person like any other with my weaknesses. In my own country I don’t have this freedom. Some of us live here at the Health Centre; so we share our life challenges and we have become very close. I also have to say that without their friendship I could not manage my life here that well. The people of this area are called the Luhya. A very quiet and understanding people. I just feel so comfortable with them, they are so very easy going and always greeting me like I am not a foreigner any more.

And finally, I cannot finish this article without mentioning our little farm here of which I am the food and health care provider! I am actually doing a veterinary nursing training online and trying to put some of the theories into practice. Farm animals are quite a lot of work, but they are truly grateful especially for an animal lover like me! We have 6 goats, 40 chickens with a lot of small chicks born each week, two parish dogs and a wild cat that sometimes comes for food. I truly enjoy the animal care, they don’t ask for anything, they are unjudgemental and very grateful.

Every day here is different and new.
Come and see.
There is such a mixture of tough things and beautiful things.
It’s life like you’ve never seen it before.
You will get addicted.

Nerea Monge


A Warm Welcome in Kalungu 

for the Newcastle HUG Group

On 14th July fourteen students from Sacred Heart High School in Newcastle (UK)
set off for their long awaited
visit to Saint Charles Lwanga GTC, Kalungu.
The girls had been preparing for over 12 months, raising money,
discovering about life in Uganda,
hearing from Sister Carmel about Kalungu ~and even trying to master some basic Lugandan.
There was great excitement, but at the same time apprehension and nervousness:
would they get on well with each other as well as the Kalungu students and staff,
would they miss home, would they get ill, eat the new kinds of food…
cope with the insects??

group hug

Then suddenly we were there: the long flight over, the long dusty roads crossed and the gates
of St Charles opened: to be followed with the warmest welcome from the community and the school.
The girls and we, the accompanying staff, were made to feel so much at home.
For the first day Sister Liz suggested our girls spend the day with the prefects,
shadowing them for a normal school day…
with the exception of not having to get up quite so early!
This was a fantastic way for the students from the two schools to get to know each other.
Good conversations took place from the beginning.
The path had been laid for more informal meetings and chats as the visit continued.
The nerves and apprehensions disappeared! They felt at home.

hug ugandainschool

Our contribution began the next day when we were invited to help Sister Mary Kajubi
and the librarians catalogue and sort all the books.
A mammoth task, as we discovered there were over 9,900 books in all!
This was an eye opener for the Newcastle students as they realised the value of
educational resources that for them are generally taken for granted.
There were a couple of painting projects too:
the pool and sitting areas as well as the stage.
We hope these helped brighten up the surroundings for everyone.
The teachers from Newcastle worked with some staff on ICT skills and
made plans with Sister Liz for further collaboration.

More diversions happened, for example when we were joined by
groups from Ireland, based at Kyamusansala,
and Austria, based in Mbikko.
After a “Splendid Lunch”, the four nationalities took part in a mini
“Sacred Heart Olympics”!
The first challenge was a netball tournament, a challenge especially for the Austrians
who had never played the game before.
The able St Charles team beat us all!
On Saturday we were delighted to be part of the celebrations
for the 10th anniversary of Sacred Heart Primary School: to witness an amazing liturgy
sample the wonderful food and watch the Irish/ Ugandan football match….
no adjective for that, just appreciation of the energy involved.


hug groupsharingameal group hugunderthetree

What will be the lasting memories and lessons for our young people?
So many: the dedication to study, the ability to live without all the “add ons”,  
a desire to want to make a difference,
the humour of your girls at their efforts at washing,
the transcendent singing at mass,
the dancing, the drums,
the poverty in the surrounding areas,
the similarities in life as well as the contrasts,
the pulling together,
the skill and passion in the debate, the head teacher playing netball so well,
the way appreciation is shown!
These are but a few examples.

carmel preparinglunchhug

Our visit to Uganda finished with a couple of days in Mbikko
where again we were welcomed warmly
both by the community and everyone at St Bernadette’s.
Here the girls saw the sizes of the classes and gasped,
all the more so when they saw the level of attainment of the older pupils.
For me a moment of truth came talking to the nursery teacher who had recently
dismissed her class of 120 3-4 year olds.
I tried to imagine the beginning of the school year. I was in awe.

The atmosphere we experienced so briefly at St Bernadette’s and Mbikko
reinforced the strong impressions we had at St Charles.
We saw so much was done (including all the extras for us as visitors)
and there is no doubt so much we didn’t see.
We also saw how it was done and how this was led by the RSCJ:
their calm and quiet manner,
their wisdom and humour, their generous spirit, their dedication and prayerfulness,
their graciousness and gentleness, and their attentiveness to each person. 
For our girls who rarely meet RSCJ or other religious,
the communities and Carmel have left a deep and lasting impression.

Janet Erskine Stuart RSCJ, an English country woman,
whose anniversary will be celebrated next year,
left many wise words.
We shared these ones with our group on their last night in Africa:

Your life is a sacred journey.
It is about change, growth, discovery,
movement and transformation.
It is continuously expanding your vision of what is possible,
stretching your soul,
teaching you to see clearly and deeply and
helping you to listen to your intuition.


Our Newcastle students, their staff and I have been so enriched,
challenged and inspired by all we have experienced in Uganda
and we promise to hold your and your students’
sacred journeys in our hearts and prayers as we return to our families back home.

Thank you so very much.

meetingthebishop huggroup


Hilary Thompson, Schools’ and College Network Coordinator, ENW and Carmel Flynn rscj

August 15th 2013

huginthe library  hug pupilspaintingtheclassroom 



"Determined to make a difference"


Kenyan Flag

On the 14th July 2012 fifteen girls from Clonmel went to Nairobi
with the HUG (Helping You Grow Association)
to work in the slums of Nairobi.

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Group in Rathgormack on training with HUG

 Emma Lacey wrote about the experience the group had…..

kibera slum1pf
Kibera slum

Even though we were all encouraged to read about
the Kibera slums in Nairobi
nothing prepared us for the impact it had on us all,
a group of fifteen secondary school pupils from
the Loreto and Presentation Secondary Schools in Clonmel.

The sea of tin huts

It was incredible to witness
how close the modern city of Nairobi is to the poverty,
squalor and disease that fill  the slums of Kibera,
a sea of tin huts crowded on top of one another.


clonmel with the childrenpf
The warmth of the children

The scale of the slums, the amount of people living
in such horrific conditions is frightening to witness
but we were all determined
to make a difference to the lives of the
children who have to survive every day in that environment.

We befriended the children who responded
with so much warmth, friendship and fun to us
during our two week stay in Nairobi.

rathgormack 1pf
Some of the group with Carmel Flynn rscj 

The group of girls 
- Roisin Brophy, Leah Hyland,
Leanne Murphy, Emer Lyons,
Clare Nolan, Máire Buckley,
Aoife Roberts, Niamh McNally,
Erin Conran, Ciara McKeown,
Ciara Corbett, Nocola Pleskach,
Gillian Hickey, Méábh Kennedy and Mary Doyle decided last October to travel to Kenya
after meeting Sister Carmel Flynn of the HUG Helping U Grow Association.

After a massive fund-raising effort which was so generously supported
by the people of Clonmel, the money to allow us travel was raised.

Important Maintenance Work

All of us were given a very warm

welcome wherever we went. 
We spent the two weeks mainly
carrying out important maintenance work.
We carried out a number of painting jobs on
classrooms and desks and
helped clean and clear some rooms

We also entertained and
the children in two primary schools. 

We spent one week with children at
the Shalom Academy in the Masai slums
and the second week at the
Laini Saba Primary School in the Kibera slums.

The children loved playing with us,
enjoyed getting to know us all and
were very appreciative of anything we did for them.

dancers uganda

They loved listening to us singing Irish songs and
watching us performing dances and
we spent a lot of time with the children
helping them to improve their English and doing Arts and Crafts with them.

noahs ark 2012pf
Arts and Crafts turned into Noah's Ark in the Yard with Mary and Maire
erin with abandoned babypf
Erin with abandoned baby

We also helped children in
St Paul’s Care Home

to which
a fifteen day year old
baby wrapped in newspaper

had been brought by the police.
The child had been abandoned.

One does not know the reason for this.
St. Paul’s, to which Shalom is attached,
cares for children who have been abused in their homes
and/or abandoned.


michele with two of the orphanspf
Michelle with two orphans



We also visited an orphanage
called Nyumbani
where we met children
who are suffering from AIDS.

It was an incredibly moving and
uplifting place to visit.

We went to Mass in the orphanage and
despite their illness
the children put on

a magical performance of music,
song and dance for us.

Whenever we left the schools to go out into the slums,
we had to make sure to take a different route every day as
Kibera slum is a dangerous place in which to walk.
In the slums local adults from the schools were with us as escorts.
The open sewers, the smells and the conditions we saw were a shock to all of us.

a safe haven asanti 2012pf
The safe haven of Laini Saba Primary School



The atmosphere in the schools was much more relaxed. 
It was a safe haven for the children and
a place where we could mix with them without fear.
They were wonderful, happy and inspirational children
despite the terrible conditions in which they live.



The two weeks we spent in Nairobi were a truly wonderful life changing experience. 
As a group we are indebted to our leaders
Sister Carmel, Michelle McCartan, Barbara Gartland,
Rita Sweet and Clare McManus .
We owe so much to the people of Clonmel who supported our fund-raising events.

asanti 2012pf
Asante from Kenya - Thank you from Clonmel

Thanks to everybody who supported our numerous table quizzes,
church gate collections,
funding in Parish Primary schools,
bag-packing in local supermarkets,
traditional music sessions, walks, and
the many companies all over South Tipperary and West Waterford
that gave donations despite the recession. 
Many thanks to our families and friends, our teachers and schools for their invaluable support.

laini saba primary schoolpf
Children in Kibera

We went with the ambition
of making a small change in the lives of young children
who live in the most awful conditions.
But we arrived home last Saturday
with all of our own lives changed as
a result of the friendship and love those children gave to us.

Thank you to Emma for her report and to Carmel for the pictures.

"It was amazing!" "Brilliant!"



imagespf flag on paradepf
Kenya Wild Life Kenyan Team in the Olympics


arriving to airportpf
In the Arrivals Hall, Dublin Airport

The energy, the buzz, the excitment was palpable,
as the 16 students from Clonmel
arrived into Dublin Airport
from Kibera in Kenya,
on Saturday, 28th July 2012

Collection Point





They were so glad they had gone.

"It was amazing  - I cannot put words on it."
"It was an experience of a lifetime."

airplane flyingpf


The flight home was quiet
- some had watched four movies,
they hadn't slept at all and
there was every indication that with their energy and
excitment they wouldn't sleep that night either.


kibera slumpf children outside their homes in kiberapf
Playing in the street in Kibera At home in Kibera




The most shocking thing....
"... the slums of Kibera




child 2pf 




"Even though they were very poor the children were so happy."

 The girls were aware they would miss the children.
"It was unbelieveable they wanted to hold our hands and they always asked us how we were."

laini saba primary schoolpf
Pupils from Laini Saba Primary School
carmel preparingpf
Preparing with Carmel in Rathgormack
problems to solvepf
Organising the planned activities

All the
done together with
in Rathgormack
helped the 10 Students
from the Loreto School 
        and the 5 students from the                   Presentation School in Clonmel and
one from Hacketstown 
to be well prepared to engage the children in
all kinds of creative and fun activities.

The preparation involved physical activity and reflection on that first Sunday in Lent, as they began to set out.

engaged in the physical chalengepf centrepiece as they set out for kenyapf
Challenging outdoor activity with Carmel  in preparation Centrepiece for reflection as they set out for Kenya

michele in kitchenpf
Michelle McCartan in the kitchen in Rathgormack

In Rathgormack Michelle organised the work around the
cooking and engaging the students around
team work in the kitchen, yet she also
stimulated them into planning
creative activities for the children in Kibera.

All this meant that they felt well prepared to go keep the children busy.

"We did loads of arts and crafts with the children."  Mary reported with great excitement and energy, on Saturday night in the airport on their return.

noahs arkpf

Another reported that "Two days ago we had Noah’s Ark in the playground
– so we went in to tell
Anastasia rscj - the principal in Laini Saba Primary School
that there were animals in the playground and
she couldn’t believe it.
The children were so happy"!

noahs ark 2012pf

 "Brilliant…"  was also how
Clare, who was out for
a second time
in East Africa,
described the experience.

doing speech therapy with clarepf
Doing speech therapy with Clare

The speech work she went out to do went well.
Michelle reported that
“Clare worked one-on-one with a young boy
in Laini Saba School and at the end
he wrote a letter to her, off his own bat,
thanking her
'he wasn’t able to speak and now he can speak'."

the van with the luggagepf

Packing up their luggage
into the van, taking them
home to Clonmel,
someone suggested that
they pack 'Kenyan style'.
On enquiring what that was like
they said laughingly
"Load it on the roof, tie it down and hope it doesn't fall off. "


They shared with us on arrival that they had experienced great sadness at the beginning of their trip.
Just two days after arriving Rita, one of the adult support group,
received news her mother had died and she had to return home immediately.
"The only good thing was that she got out there and had a day or two."

from rathgormack to kiberapf
It's a long way from Tipperary to Kibera !
Yet the beauty of Rathgormack prepared us a little for the beauty of Kenya

We await the photos promised and Emma's report.

The challenge of Uganda this summer 2012



Uganda Summer 2012

uganda map pluspf
Uganda in East Africa
very busypf
 Young people team building/working in preparation for trip

The students from St. Catherine’s College Armagh
have just returned home from
their trip to Uganda on Sunday 9th July
The trip proved to be a more challenging experience
than they had anticipated.

While their training as part of the preparation for going out to Uganda was rigorous in Benburb.

servite priory benburbpf
Servite Priory Benburb


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Carmel with girls before the dawn out working
Digging the seed beds for the Priory

They rose before dawn at
6 am on a March morning
to dig seed beds
in the Priory garden,
but the
the heat and humidity they met out in Uganda,
when they were out working in
St. Bernadette’s School, was a killer, it was so unexpected.

Crossing the Equator in Uganda on the way to school

It was so challenging that they needed to learn the Ugandan way of
‘slowly by slowly’ to be able to adapt to the climate.
They had to re-schedule all activities so as to pace themselves
– all part of an African experience really…!

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Sorting out the last details in March, in Benburb.
passion sunday 2012 benburbpf
The Liturgy in Benburb on Palm Sunday March 2012


They had no idea when they were sorting out the last details of their arrangement for fund-raising and organising themselves in Benburb what actually lay ahead.

flag of ugandapf

While the priest did try to help us grasp that we would be participating in the Christ's action of building a Better World out in Uganda, we did not quite take in, at that stage, just how demanding that would prove to be.

You might remember them now as they make the transition back to Ireland, leaving behind the children of St. Bernadette's and all the children who touched their hearts.

meal timecroppedpf child ugandapf
Meal time An Ugandan Smile


We are hoping to get feedback and photos from them soon.....