Graduation Day in Mavambo

The Dublin Province of the Redemptorists (DPR), with funding support from Misean Cara, have been long term supporters of Mavambo Trust who work with orphaned and vulnerable children, and their caregivers, in the communities of Mabvuku and Tafara in Zimbabwe. SERVE manages the implementation of this project for the DPR.

On 4th December, 41 students (aged 8 to 12) graduated from Mavambo Learning Centre (MLC) and their Accelerated Literacy and Numeracy Programme. The event brought together students, teachers, parents, grandparents, siblings and representatives of the local government and ministry of education, who were all there to congratulate and celebrate the fantastic achievement of these young learners.

MLC’s Accelerated Literacy and Numeracy Programme gives children, who have never been to school before, an opportunity to catch up, learn and grow in a safe environment so they can join the formal education system once passed. The programme not only focuses on their academic skills but also fosters creative learning, drama, music and life skills.

SERVE’s Regional Monitoring & Evaluation Officer, Julia Haimlinger, represented the Dublin Province of the Redemptorists at the graduation and was present to witness the fruits of these skills. The graduates performed a play showcasing what children rights mean to them, sang, danced and read out some of their own poems. Julia was delighted to be there and witness all the joy and laughter. It was particularly beautiful to watch the proud mothers, fathers or grandparents embrace the children once they received their certificates. The official ceremony was followed by a big party with lots of food and dancing.

The DPR are proud to see the importance and impact of this long term partnership and wish all the graduates and their families the best as they move to formal schools.

Meet Omega

By Rory Murphy

As the years go by and the memories fade, I suspect one thing, above all else, will remain with me from my time in Mozambique with SERVE.

It won’t be the incredible people or the stunning vistas. It won’t be the pounding heat or the sensory assaults that accompanied ventures around the town of Beira. It won’t be Vernam’s inimitable laugh or Karina’s endless dramatics. It won’t even be the work we did or the thoughts I had. 

It will be Omega.

I met Omega in an English class one incredible evening in Young Africa Beira. This is his story. 

The first thing Omega will tell you when he meets you is that he’s going to be a dentist. He’ll beam with justified pride as he does so. He’ll tell you that this is how he will support his family. 

His family, however, is not a wife and kids. His family is his siblings, nieces and nephews all of whom he cares for on a daily basis. He leaves them only for one thing. English class. 

You see English class is everything to Omega. That’s the next thing he’ll tell you. He takes a long bus journey to the YA campus for his evening course with August, his unique tutor. Education is not a chore or a hardship for Omega but rather a privilege he does not take lightly.

In order to train and then use his skills as a dentist, he requires a certain level of English. That’s where Young Africa come in. The course provides him with this vital skill that can allow him to flourish and shape his future. It empowers him to provide for his siblings, nieces and nephews. For me, he will always be the face of Young Africa and the reason why I won’t stop working to support them in any way I can. 

Omega sat with me that evening for two hours as he practiced his English pronunciation and told me his story. He taught me Portuguese better than any teacher ever taught me Irish but that’s very much beside the point. He is an extraordinary young man who is more resilient than I could ever hope to be. He needed only the smallest help in order to achieve amazing things and YA, with SERVE’s support, provided that push. 

So, in future, if anyone ever doubts the power of education, the importance of empowerment or the necessity of SERVE and their partner’s work, think of Omega. And tell his story

Volunteering done, now to update my Instagram…

By Aisling Moran


Look! Look! Here’s me, a white girl volunteering in India saving the day one breath at a time! Or would this work better for an Instagram caption: ‘Being here in India has made me lose the 3 stone I always wanted gone, while making a difference to poor kids lives xx <3’.

All sarcasm aside, volunteering has always beIMG_20190725_112419en a complex and conflicting topic for me. ‘Voluntourism’ can easily capture the hearts of naïve volunteers who want to ‘make a difference in the world’ yet wish to remain in their own narcissistic and sheltered bubble. Over 1.6 million people go volunteering while on their travels making it a $2 billion industry. But at what expense does these so-called good acts come at?

Coined by Jorgen Lissner, ‘poverty porn’ is described as an ‘exhibition of the human body and soul… without any respect and piety for the person involved. It puts people’s bodies, their misery, their grief, and their fear on display with all the details and all the indiscretion that a telescopic lens will allow’. It doesn’t take long to think of fundraising campaigns of a near naked sorrow-eyed African child with a bloated belly and flies resting on their face. This unethical image of a famished child sustains the myth that material wealth is the very groundwork of a good quality of life. Yes, the money raised can make a substantial difference, but financial aid gathered with no consideration to what such advertising can do to the mindset, attitudes, behaviour, and politics of their intended audience can do more harm than good.

By portraying malnourished and sick children when they are most vulnerable and exposed counteracts the idea that their dignity is worth as much as the children of our own western countries. This leads to the artificial distinction between “us” – the ingenious and generous agents of change, and “them” – the inert and silent in need of our charity. The ‘white saviour complex’ introduced by Teju Cole explains it as those who support ruthless policies in the morning, creates charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening. Arguably there is an evident colonial outlook whereby we view the developing world as a place to loot, while simultaneously praising ourselves on our humanitarian worry for its people. Privileged folk or dominant companies sending off a handful of volunteers can use developing countries as a space in which white egos can be suitably projected. It is a space where no rules apply when satisfying their emotional needs and yet still be hailed as a God or a national hero. Planting white saviour ‘activism’ under the header of ‘making a difference’ encapsulates all that is wrong with quick, cheap, and cheerful volunteering where the end goal is to boast about it on your Instagram to appear like a hippy cultural God.

Okay so now comes the bit where I say, ‘I’m currently writing this while volunteering in India’ and you spit out your Starbucks coffee and goes “ugh what a hypocrite”. However, good news! There is ethical volunteering whereby volunteers work alongside grassroot organizations, offering their skills, expertise, and support in certain areas.

SERVE is an Irish organization where their mission is to work in solidarity, service, and partnership with marginalized and oppressed communities. Every aspect of their work is focused on creating sustainable initiatives with the community and never without them. As much as we are the teacher, we are also very much the student too in every experience. Ethical volunteering is making sure that we utilise our privilege to highlight the great work done by citizens and their communities, making sure not to sit on the throne on behalf of all their hard work.

Lastly, I’m not writing this to exclude myself from this critique. I am aware that even the minerals in my phone is most likely a product of mal-treated workers. But to ignore the privilege the colour of my skin, education, and passport offers would be a gross shame. To be of any help to anyone is better than being stuck in a bubble of luxury and ignorance.

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“Live to love life, and life will love you to live it”

By Michelle Canon

Putting words together hardly gives justice to the experiences I have had in India to date. I am into my second week and already feel settled. I may explain the lifestyle here from my eyes and emotions, but it truly is something that needs to be experienced for oneself.

Before I came to India, I had many fears about what I would encounter, from the food, the weather, my safety, my placement, and the group with whom I would be sharing the next month. As a forty-seven-year-old woman and mother of four, I had concerns about my health and well-being. Was I in over my head leaving home for that long and so far away? What if I got sick?

apd1It all started back in January when I was on Facebook, and saw SERVE’s advertisement: “Would you like to become a volunteer? Tick the box”. So, Michelle ticked the box. Within a day or so, I was back to work as a Health Care Assistant in the community, rushing around and thought no more about it. Until SERVE contacted me and I had an interview. Before I had time to think too much I was on the training days, meeting the rest of the group and leaders and preparing to start fundraising.

I held a Tupperware party, an art exhibition, and an auction, all of which were successful. In total, I raised €4156. The generosity of the people in my community was outstanding, and the support I received was fantastic! People had such admiration for what I was going to do; there was no backing out now, too many people would be let down – including myself.

When the bags were packed and the goodbyes were said, I left home at 3am for Dublin airport to meet the group of people that were to become my new family. We were all in this together to make a difference for someone, even if it was a small one. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one”. I associated Mother Teresa with Kolkata, India and that was all I knew of India. Mother Teresa known in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Kolkata. For me, that summed up all I knew of India – until now.

After a two leg, fifteen-hour journey, we arrived in Bangalore at 6am in on Thursday 11th July. In the airport, we changed our Euros to Indian Rupees and switched our phones to a local SIM card. We headed to our destination. We were now in “incredible India”. It was dry, 24 degrees and most pleasant. Taken by taxi, we arrived in Nava Spoorthi Kendra, our home for the next four weeks. All together in one room, we erected mosquito nets, and later ventured out to life in India on a rickshaw.

The roads were busy but safety was not an issue as we weaved in and out of traffic. Being cut off by vehicles and motorbikes gave me a sense of the crazy race on Indian roads. The Irish penalty point system would be gone off the Richter scale in five minutes! While frightening, it worked – even vehicles going in the wrong direction avoided accidents. The visual impact along with the cows, sacred in India, was overwhelming.

On Friday we visited my placement, APD also known as Association for People with Disabilities. Along with Zara and Sile we would work together here for the next month. Monday soon came and we began our journey to APD, led by the leaders who showed us the way. The walk to school was different to say the least, the air, the noise and the sheer volume of vehicles was a big change.

Walking through the school gates, we met smiling children at every turn. They moved in wheelchairs, walkers, with and without shoes, some plodding along on their own, or helped by the other children and helpers called ‘Aunties’. There was a great sense of togetherness. We were introduced to the therapy rooms, occupational, physio, and hydrotherapy – there was plenty happening, and people were moving in all directions. APD even assembles and modifies their own wheelchairs, Ankle Foot Orthotics, and walking supports. There is also a training centre for older children where they get educated in a skill and are guaranteed employment on completion.

I was placed in Early Intervention which diagnoses a condition, its severity, and the most appropriate care plan going forward. Its role is to empower parents to care for their children – they are their best advocates. I met with the other therapists, parents and children. The children in APD have varying birth defects and disabilities from autism to cerebral palsy. Their parents all have one goal: to give the child the best quality of life, with the abilities they have. No matter the severity of the condition, hydrotherapy is the preferred form of therapy as the parents find this the most beneficial for their child. There was a great emphasis on the well-being and good health of each individual child, demonstrated by the rapport therapists has with them. The dignity and respect they gave the children was inspirational. It was clear that inclusion was the central ethos in APD.

apd2So often I asked myself before coming to India, what was my purpose in life? There must be more to life than what I am doing every day. I had gotten into such a routine that I couldn’t see beyond it and I felt empty and lonely at times. Since I had time to reflect on my life, and have such a change in a short time, it’s like the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. Yes, I miss my family, partner and friends, but being away from home has made me realise I have everything – and more. I had taken it for granted.

I am embarrassed to say that life is simple, people make it complicated. I was searching for something that was already in my hands. It was right under my nose but too blinded by my busy lifestyle and with no time for myself, I felt an emptiness inside me and a hunger for something more. It was not to be found until I met the parents of the children at APD. They have the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their children as I have. They realised what they had before I had.

Now my motto is “live to love life, and life will love you to live it”

SERVE volunteers promoting disability inclusion

By Fiachra Brennan

SERVE is guided by the vision that every individual, regardless of their ability, should be able to reach their potential and make a meaningful contribution to society. SERVE’s volunteer programme plays a key role in delivering our mission. Volunteers are assigned with the goal of building partner capacity, fostering global solidarity, and facilitating knowledge exchange and cross-cultural learning. In July 2019, 8 volunteers were assigned to our partner projects in Bangalore, India. 6 volunteers worked directly with the Association of People with Disability (APD), a pioneering organisation that strives to promote the rights of people with disability (PWD) through the provision of specialist services and by engaging in effective advocacy and policy formation initiatives.

hVolunteers included Elaine Houlihan, a qualified physiotherapist. Elaine was able to use her specialist knowledge to support the work of the physiotherapy department at APD. This was Elaine’s third time volunteering with APD, and in 2019 her specific objective was to help build the internal capacity of the team working in the hydrotherapy pool. The hydrotherapy pool is newly opened, but the team lacked the specialist knowledge and experience to deliver classes to a high standard.

Elaine took on two roles. Firstly, she facilitated classes with children from APD’s early-intervention unit, working with children with cerebral palsy. These classes were well received, with parents noticing notable changes, commenting that their children were more relaxed and less tense. Secondly, Elaine was asked to facilitate specialist training for the newly formed hydrotherapy team. Over a week, she provided a detailed introduction to both the theoretical and the practical applications of hydrotherapy. Participants were able to practice in the pool in real life situations, substantially enhancing the capacity of the team to deliver their classes.

Elaine found the experience to be beneficial for all involved,

‘Seeing the impact the hydrotherapy had on the children was heart-warming. I really started to notice it when parents said it to me about the improvements they had seen in their children after only one week of sessions’

Elaine’s work with APD demonstrates the clear and measurable impact of a well-organised and targeted short-term volunteer project. Elaine’s placement was only 4 weeks and yet she was able to deliver tangible outcomes for our partner organisation. Children benefitted directly from Elaine’s classes, which can now be continued by a better trained and better equipped team. This approach underlines the importance of partnership – Elaine was invited to help develop the capacity of the team delivering an ongoing project that they had identified as a priority. She did not seek to impose her own solutions. Rather, she worked within the framework of the existing project to deliver tangible and impactful outcome for the participants. Elaine’s contribution builds on SERVE’s development work in India, with volunteerism seen as a core part of achieving our mission.

SERVE and Sumanahalli

By Fiachra Brennan

Sumanahalli, meaning the Village of People of Good Heart, is an organisation based in Bangalore, India. Their project offers integrated social, educational, and healthcare supports to the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in society. Their work particularly supports people living with the after effects of leprosy. Discrimination and social exclusion are widespread problems experienced by leprosy survivors, as they are treated as the lowest of the low in India.

Leprosy HousesSumanahalli seek to help integrate these people into mainstream society, with a range of holistic supports including medical care, the provision of sheltered accommodation, and skills training and employment opportunities. The organisation has established manufacturing units, producing items such as candles, eco-friendly shopping bags, and leather garments, allowing the survivors to earn a decent living in a safe and welcoming environment. These activities also generate an income for the organisation and promote their work within the broader community. Clients include the state government and several of the large technology companies based in Bangalore.

Accommodation has been developed both within the Sumanahalli campus and at suitable sites out in the community. This sheltered housing model supports people who would have little chance of securing a tenancy in the private rental market, as a direct result of stigma and discrimination.

Sumanahalli also provide on-site residential care, primarily for those who have developed a range of disabilities and health issues due to their previous leprosy diagnosis. The Ava Maria centre offers on-site medical and social care, providing a decent quality of live for people.

SERVE and Sumanahalli have been working together in partnership since 2005. SERVE have placed over 20 volunteers and supported a range of initiatives, with the support of institutional donors such as Misean Cara. These include the development of sheltered housing in the community, the renovation of existing housing on site, and the construction of the Ava Maria recreational hall, that is used for a variety of activities including garment making and rehabilitative care. SERVE’s support has enabled Sumanahalli to sustain their work and offer new and innovative opportunities to a very marginalised group of people.