He’s a grafter and well used to hard work but for years Derrytrasna man Declan McAlinden has been using his well toned muscles and building talents for a great cause.
Despite working full time as a builder and spending his free time as an SDLP councillor on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, Declan still has found time for a superb charity building project in Africa.
Founded in 2002, Declan along with 22,000 charity volunteers have helped build 25,000 houses, providing 125,000 Africans with new homes.
It is all part of the Niall Mellon Trust whose mission is to provide better standards of education to 100,000 children in Africa.
Every year, Mellon Educate organises their now renowned “building blitz” trip to Africa for volunteers from all over the world to travel and lend a helping hand building better infrastructure in poor African communities.
Declan said: “I first got involved with the NMTT in 2005 when I saw a documentary on TV about it. At the time construction in Ireland was booming and I was fortunate enough to be fairly busy with developers in Lurgan. The charity was calling out for tradesmen and in particular plasterers so I thought, ‘this is for me!‘
“I had always wanted to do some sort of charity work and felt this was ideal for me given that I had a skill that could help improve families and their lives. I applied and got accepted to go on my first ‘building blitz‘ in 2006 and now in 2016 I’m taking part in my 9th blitz, having missed one in 2014. My plan was to do one blitz but the experience and sense of achievement has pushed me to many more. It is something I love doing and look forward to doing each year .
“The blitz to me is just another day on a building site but to many volunteers it’s a whole new experience for them. Many of them have never worked on a site before and it’s their first time seeing through a building project from foundation to completion and handover. Many are factory workers, health/office workers, students and teachers.
“Unfortunately these last few years because of the recession it has become more difficult for tradesmen to go but thankfully with the generosity and help of family and friends I have been able to take part.
“The week itself is a very emotional week and heart warming experience. Many of the volunteers have lost loved ones over the years and, indeed, I myself lost my mum in May this year. It’s something that when away from home and you see the conditions these people live in daily, it makes you think how lucky we are and to have the support of our family and parents. Many of the volunteers, probably I’ll never see again and that is hard because you have built up a friendship in that short week.
“I’m on site for 7:30 each morning and finish at 5:30 each evening. It’s a long day in 30 degrees heat but with the volunteers and locals you can have a bit of craic. Over the years many local lads from the townships have been able to work with me and indeed I’ve helped train a number of them to become plasterers and are now fully qualified plasterers and are able to work to provide for their families,
“I suppose that’s what the whole trip is about, trying to make them self sufficient and to work to improve their lives. Many of the volunteers by the end of the week gain a massive amount of experience, especially some young students who take part in the blitz. I normally have a team of about 10 volunteers and after the first day they all want to plaster. Maybe because it’s probably one of the hardest trades, if I say so myself, lol, but they all get stuck in and, I suppose, heading home in the evenings if they are all covered in plaster they look as if they’ve done a days work.
“By the end of the week I have all my team plastering at some level, something they have never done before and will be able to apply that skill sometime in their future lives. Indeed some young lads might even think about making a career out of it just like the local lads from the townships!
“I would also like to mention a few volunteers who have travelled with me over the years and that is the Toman family from Lurgan.
“Guided by their parents Malachy and Dorothy along with their lads Neill and Ruairi, they have helped enormously with the charity’s work and will be travelling also.”
Declan thanked all his family and friends who helped in any shape or form as he embarks on yet another trip to the townships of Capetown, South Africa.
If anyone still wants to donate contact Declan or go to his Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Declan-McAlinden