“Baai danke,” was the declaration proferred to two remarkable women in the lounge of Comerford’s Bar in Mooncoin on Friday night last.
My only phrase in Afrikaans, which means ‘thank you’ was offered on behalf of the 144 donors drawn from South Kilkenny, Waterford, South Tipperary and Wexford who support the ‘Women in Need’ (WIN) programme in Cape Town.
Collectively known as the ‘Friends of Zelda’s House’, those who have supported this programme via administration-free funding over the past four years, are clearly a happy lot indeed.
“Long may it continue,” was a refrain offered by virtually all who spoke at the ‘meet and greets’ held in Mooncoin and in Kilkenny on Monday evening.
And listening to the words of Ronni Mehl (the WIN Programme Manager) and Sharmelia Cornelius (the Principal of WIN Playhouse/Zelda’s House), it was easy to see why.
A magnificent municipal building named ‘Kilkenny Hall’ stands in the middle of one of Africa’s largest townships today. It was built via the monies sent from the south east in a drive spearheaded by Mooncoin farmer John Crowley.
And to think that all this came about thanks to Kilkenny’s 2002 All-Ireland senior hurling victory simply makes this particular local success story all the more interesting.
Deeply moved by what he witnessed on a trip to the Khayelitsha township (population: over 1.2 million) during the Kilkenny hurlers’ holiday, John set about making a difference to the lives of women and children. And what a difference he has made.
And to be in Sharmelia’s company was to witness that difference. She was a ‘street woman’, one of thousands of homeless mothers in Cape Town, having spent almost a decade living that way. With a small son to take care of, every day was a struggle to survive.
But life took a turn for the better for Sharmelia when she met an Irish-born Loreto Sister Margo Mulvey, the founder of WIN.
It was Sr Margo who identified Sharmelia’s affinity with children, which in turn led to her subsequently seeking and attaining qualifications in caring and educating children.
Today, Sharmelia is responsible for 31 children at WIN Playhouse/Zelda’s House. She is an articulate, engaging, enthusiastic and inspirational woman.
To listen to her speak about the improvements that children and their mothers have experienced thanks to the ‘FOZH’ was more than just inspiring. It was humbling.
Ronni Mehl, the very definition of a lady and one of the most admirable people I’ve ever had the good luck to meet, spoke from the bottom of a very big heart.
And when she spoke of the gratitude that she, Sharmelia and all the children at Zelda’s House feel for their friends in Ireland, you knew she meant every syllable.
To underline the significance of what the monies donated by the ‘FOZH’ make possible, Ronni made a plainly stated but shockingly stark declaration.
“There is no facility, absolutely no other facility in Cape Town providing the service that WIN Playhouse provides,” she said. “We’ve looked, we’ve done surveys and there is absolutely nothing else like it.”
That people drawn from the banks of the Suir are helping almost three dozen African children in the most fundamental of civic senses is something that each of the 144 donors should be enormously proud of.
And spearheading it all is a driven man, a passionate man, a man who speaks with the sort of conviction that many a national politician pays Terry Prone handsomely to source for them.
Though he’s right to point out that everyone involved in this programme, particularly the two ladies at the coalface are the ones worth thanking, I must tip my hat to John Crowley.
For it is he who lit a fire that’s not only burning brightly across four counties, but half the world away in the foothills of Table Mountain. Keep up the good work, everybody!