It’s another hot day in Port Elizabeth. And the people of Missionvale are feeling it.
Not dissimilar to other poverty stricken communities in South Africa, homes here are crammed, dirty and totally devoid of the creature comforts so many of us take for granted. They rely on water from communal taps.
One thing that strikes you when you drive into this town, is the mounds of rubbish piled up outside people’s homes – rubbish which is going nowhere.
The shacks are made of scrap wood, tin and cardboard. The further we drive into the town the worse it gets, the rundown shacks tightly packed as far as the eye can see.
Children have to contend with the skyrocketing growth of Tuberculosis and the continual invasion of HIV.
But amid the heartbreak stands a beacon of hope and resilience.
A lady, no taller than five foot, 74 years of age, with a beautifully comforting Irish accent.
There’s no doubt Sister Ethel Normoyle is a fighter.
A trained nurse, she’s seen things none of us will in a lifetime. She’s been arrested. She’s lobbied. She’s rescued.
But crucially, she’s created.
In 1988, Sister Ethel went door to door with nothing more than her rucksack. She had a dream to help educate the most marginalised children.
She gathered a small group. They met under a tree and she started counting marbles with them and reading stories.
The numbers grew.
“Then the mothers would come. We had a few hand-sewing machines donated. So, while they waited for their children, they would sit on the ground – I’d bring paper, and they’d learn to sew in a straight line,” Sister Ethel said.
She needed to do more. She knew that. But how?
“The challenges were many. This person is sick… that person is sick. I was diagnosing them. The resources were so limited.”
And so began the campaign for funding. Missionvale needed bricks. A safe place for children to learn. A place for the sick to receive treatment.
In 1992, the Missionvale Care Centre became a reality, built with funds provided by glass company Shatterprufe.
In exchange for land, Sister Ethel would give the council a clinic.
Twenty seven years later, the centre continues to offer what Sister Ethel describes as her three pillars: education, nutrition and medical care.
“They (children) make me smile. We have a lot of success stories. But I can’t say I get any gratification from it. I love all people. I don’t discriminate between the poor and the rich. I think the greatest gift you can give anybody is to believe in them.”
Sister Ethel is also an unlikely and unwilling civil rights activist.
She was 26 when she was sent from Ireland to South Africa to conduct missionary work; she thought it was a death sentence.
It was 1972, the height of apartheid and she was a white woman thrown right into the lion’s den.
It was madness.
She was placed in Pretoria where she decided to educate black youths by holding night classes. She was harassed, beaten and spat on by police.
But she never gave up.
She was due to return home to Ireland some 15 years later when she stumbled across Missionvale, a town of 120,000 people, where the rate of HIV is a staggering 70 per cent.
People here literally have nothing.
She couldn’t leave.
“I don’t think anybody can live comfortably when you know a certain area is struggling for life. They are hungry. Kids are hungry. There’s little job opportunities.”
She went cap in hand for help, fronting up to a local wealthy businessman on Valentine’s Day “because I have a lot of faith about what can be achieved on that day”.
Who knew a nun’s favourite day would be Valentine’s Day?
Like most people she meets, she won that businessman over and remains friends with him to this day.
But the Centre’s need for funding is never ending.
“When I approach wealthy people, they’re afraid of tomorrow… will I have enough? Why are they scared, when people here have nothing?”
We notice quotes painted all over the walls of the centre. One from Nelson Mandela reads: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
And, another: “If you lose hope you lose everything.”
Yes, Sister Ethel wants those here to be uplifted by the quotes, but this crafty nun also sees it as a way of ensuring the children are constantly reading and speaking English, even in the playground.
As we tour the schoolgrounds, we hear signing from one classroom. Inside, a sea of smiling faces greets us. The teacher tells us about how she wants nothing more than to teach children who will become citizens to make positive contributions in the community.
In all, 268 students are accommodated. In the afternoon, the school becomes an adult education and training centre. In short, the teachings exist to help those unable to complete their schooling as children, obtain their qualifications and become more employable.
The health unit is small. But importantly, it’s clean, and boasts equipment and medication many South African communities have no access to. An eye clinic provides people the chance to get fitted with glasses.
Sister Ethel tells us the people of Missionvale are among the sickest of the sick.
A pharmacy is now stocked to help address the spread of infection and disease. There’s also an on-site doctor and a nurse.
There’s also a clothing warehouse which stores clothing. On shelves, garments are broken into age group and gender. Many of these arrive from Australia.
And then, in a small building, a group of beautiful ladies toil away at sewing machines. There’s no air-conditioning, just a small fan. And it’s hot work. The ladies of the crafters unit make curtains, placemats, hand bags and aprons. The items are sold, with the profits donated back to Missionvale.
From nothing, Sister Ethel has built something extraordinary.
But despite all she’s achieved in her time in Africa, which includes visits from Mother Theresa and the Queen, this 74-year-old nun is in despair about the political state of South Africa.
“I feel sad. I feel sad because I fought hard against apartheid. Everything… Mandela’s dream, has been turned upside down. We are in a dreadful state. Nobody is getting a fair chance. The level of corruption in this country… no wonder we are as poor as we are now,” she says.
At 74, it is unclear how long Sr Ethel has left in Missionvale. “I’m in it for the long haul… but I have to be real.”
She has a dedicated team of workers including Linda van Oudheusden, who came for a visit and never left, plus an army of local and international volunteers including Australian Ann Beck.
But it’s a bottomless pit to fill.
Coming from a lucky country, like Australia, where we often complain and are unhappy with what we don’t have, one thing that strikes you when you walk into Missionvale Centre, is just how happy these children are.
It doesn’t fit. They should be sad, angry even, but they are none of those things.
It’s left to this plucky trail blazing nun to sum it all up.
“I would appeal to the people of Australia: be grateful for what you have… and share it.”
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© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019
Source link : https://www.9news.com.au/world/news-world-south-africa-missionvale-port-elizabeth-sister-ethel-normoyle/8e99d150-4471-4caf-bf53-429ae2c2b908
Publish date : 2019-03-31 01:12:00