In celebration of the Public Relations Global Network’s (PRGN) 20th anniversary, member agency principals and their guests helped build homes in the township of Witsand, near Cape Town. It’s hard for me to express what a moving experience this was, but I will try…
Through the Niall Mellon Township Trust, we had the opportunity to help build homes for people who are living in shacks. Alongside the local workers, we moved hundreds of cement blocks by hand, dumped countless wheelbarrow loads of sand and concrete mix, mixed dugger (concrete) by hand, learned how to lay bricks and built the exterior walls of several homes, painted window frames and cleaned tools. I’m so thankful to Matsen, the local supervisor on my worksite, who taught me about corner bricks and how to apply dugger andplace the cement blocks evenly. He was very polite each time he had to say, “No, ma’am. That’s not quite right,” and re-do my work.
It was incredibly rewarding to see the progress made in just one day! And it was extremely eye-opening to tour the neighborhood of shacks right next door to the new homes. Thousands of people are living in these shacks without indoor bathrooms and are using small gas cook stoves that can back up in their homes resulting in asphyxiation and fires. The Niall Mellon Township Trust builds homes throughout the year in the townships of South Africa in order to get people out of shacks and into safe, stable homes. They also run their own skills development program, training people from those townships in a wide range of construction disciplines. It is a truly remarkable program.
At the end of the building day, we had the opportunity to dedicate a “PRGN House” to a young single mother and her three-year-old son. The joy on her face and tears in her eyes said it all. She was so overwhelmed to be moving out of a shack and into a home, and she said she would do everything in her power to never live in a shack again.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to visit South Africa with my PRGN peers, but infinitely more so for the opportunity to make a small difference in our very large international community.