A Carrick man has spoken of his involvement in a project assisting staff at an orphanage in Africa and the personal development he experienced.
Robert (Bertie) McWilliams has returned from Tanzania after spending a month there as part of a Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) delegation.
Bertie was one of eight volunteers from across Northern Ireland who travelled to the east African country under the stewardship of project leader, Bob Thompson.
The group spent four weeks working with the Kidzcare orphanage and schools in Tanzania from September 17. The purpose of the project was to promote team building within different loyalist communities, offer international work experience and personal development and to expose the volunteers to different cultures, religions and challenges, while at the same time benefitting the children of the orphanage. The aim was to make a difference both at home and in Africa.
Ahead of their departure, Bertie was unsure how his special diabetic dietary requirements were going to be met in Africa. He also questioned his participation in the project as he knew he would miss his six-year-old daughter a lot.
Bertie, who works as a window fitter/joiner, was able to use his skills in Africa to carry out maintenance at the orphanage.
Commenting on the duties he performed in Tanzania and his interaction with the orphans, the east Antrim man said: “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 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.”
Although most of their time was spent carrying out work around the orphanage, the LCC volunteers were able to experience African culture on a rare day off.
Bertie explained: “We spent our day off by having a beach day with the kids.
“We had a fantastic time 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.”
On his return, Bertie, who said he would be keen to volunteer in Africa again, said: “I learned to respect a lot of things back home, such as hot water, food and family. Everyone realised just how well off we are back home and none of us will take things for granted again.
“We went to Africa as strangers and returned as a family of the LCC and we will support each other from now on. I now see things very differently and I am so glad I got the opportunity to do it.”
Bertie would like to thank everyone for their support, the sponsors, the LCC and its chairman David Campbell for the idea and Bob Thompson the project leader for putting it all together.
For more information about the orphanage and the project, check out www.kidzcaretanzania.org