Now that the recent LCC Tanzania project is over the guys are now settled back home and sharing their stories. Below is a member of Dalaradia.
Bertys story –
“Hello, My Name is Robert McWilliams, Bertie to my friends. I am a loyalist from a working-class background in Carrickfergus.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to travel to Africa as part of a team of other loyalists from different working-class areas and communities represented by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) to undertake a project working at an orphanage and schools that belong to Kidzcare Tanzania.
I decided to sign up for this challenge. Prior to travel we were all given training in various skills including first aid, CPR, child protection and even basic building skills and the project leader Bob told us about the good and bad of Africa.
As the time for departure grew closer I began to question my decision to volunteer for the project and how much I was going to miss my beautiful little girl Derbi, who is only 6 years old.
Finally, the time to travel came around and having only met the other team members a few times in meetings and training nights I was more than nervous on what to expect. I was particularly nervous on the food and hygiene as both these are an issue with me, despite Bobs assurance that things would be manageable.
So, at 5am on a cold and damp morning on 17th September we all met, had a brief breakfast, loaded up the minibus which was generously supplied for our trip to Dublin airport and off we went. From the moment our adventure began, all the lads got on well together and the “banter” was good. I started feeling more comfortable as I am sure the others did as well but still I had no idea what to expect in the next four weeks.
After an exhausting flight, flying via Istanbul we arrived at 3am in a warm, clammy Dar es Salaam and after a small run in with local customs (over donated football boots and kits we were bringing) Bob got us cleared through and unto the bus waiting to take us the 60 Kms to the orphanage. To say the roads were bad would be an understatement. After a couple of hours in the bus freezing as the air-conditioning was on full blast, we arrived at the Orphanage in the dark. By now all exhausted, we settled down for a few hours rest in our communal dorm and sleeping under a mosquito net was strange. After a few hours rest we got up and explored the orphanage assessing what needed to be done and whom would be the best to do it. I am a window fitter/ joiner and very aware of the building trade so we split into groups. Straight away we got stuck into general maintenance work around the orphanage and whilst doing that we met the beautiful kids that stayed there. All our hearts were touched as these kids really have nothing and they are the most happy and friendly wee kids I have ever met. We soon learned that these kids are very much the lucky ones compared to others, as they have a safe life and love at the orphanage and without “Mama Mary” and the staff they would be desolate and abandoned. Listening to their individual life stories would melt the hardest heart. My thoughts went back to my own daughter and I realised just how well off she is compared to these kids.
As the first week drew to a close I was struggling with the food and being a diabetic it was affecting me mentally and physically and the rest of the group could see that and being honest I feel that’s when the bond began, Guys I had never known before where going out of their way and helping me in any way they could. We were building the foundations of trust and friendship…. Pretty soon, with a little pushing I began to eat like everyone else and my days of being a fussy bugger were coming to an end. Our main objective was to help the kids and this became our motivation.
The team split into two, one group went off to paint a local school which Kidzcare had built, whilst the other group stayed at the orphanage and carried on with the maintenance and interacting with the kids.
We spent our day off by having a beach day with the kids what a time we had enjoying the beach, the warm Indian Ocean and most of all having fun with the kids… The trip home on the bus was amazing with the kids entertaining us with selection of Swahili songs.
By the time the second week began we all knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that’s when we became a real team, helping each other emotionally and physically through what was a difficult and challenging time, with difficult living conditions compared to back home. we all worked hard we started to see and feel that we had achieved success and had given the kids help and hope as they are all bright kids.
I personally learned to respect a lot of things back home, such as hot water (all we had was a cold-water shower and only if water was available) food and of course family. Everyone realised just how well off we are back home and none would take things for granted again.
I know it sounds a cliché but the fact is we went to Africa as strangers and returned as a family of the LCC who will support each other from now on.
Now back home, I see things very differently and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to do it, my only regret is that everyone will not get this opportunity but if you do, you need to grasp it …..
Would I do it again? Hell yes!!! The feeling of achievement and the sheer thrill of helping others is like no other feeling ever and to top it all I have made 9 new lifelong friends…
Finally, I would like to thank everyone for your support, all the sponsors, The LCC and its chairman Mr. David Campbell for the idea and Bob Thompson our project leader for putting it all together. Mama Mary, of Kidzcare Tanzania who is an amazing woman with the largest heart of anyone I have known and who deserves everyone’s support.”