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A journey to Zambia...

A Hand Up not a Hand Out – building in Zambia Part 2

Monday seemed like the hottest day of the trip. I worked on Angus’s house, aka Mc Keen Mansion. Through the searing heat we laid probably the most amounts of bricks to any other day, or else we were just getting better at it. Sarah Byrnes gave our foreman Rafa a run for his money on work ethic and became known as Sarah Johns, she’s also a great mini bus buddy for entertainment. Our press team, interviewed all the volunteers that day, and video archive apparently will be available soon, some priceless commentary clips not to be missed. Myself and Angus shared our thoughts to camera, of which Liam hasn’t seen yet !!

Monday evening proved to be a very interesting night. Zambian time tends to be flexible; dinner at 6pm could be 8pm!! While we were waiting for dinner we had two extra guests Mickey and Minnie Mouse, much to the girl’s excitement. We then had a knock on the door from a local lady whose daughter was missing and asked would we help look for her. As they don’t have electricity or street lighting we donned our miners head lamps and set off in search. Aidan and Karen found her huddled praying in a small shack about 20 mins later. And to top the evening video man Sean decided to choke on some very tasty chicken, a quick Heimlich manoeuvre from yours truly and ‘It happens in three’s’ was over. Well-deserved refreshments that night were hosted in one of the girl’s houses, which had been decorated with lovely drapes and set the scene for a hilarious game of chinese whispers.

Tuesday’s build was with the gentle giant Paddy Johns, (stand clear when the switch is flicked, just ask Dylan) who had the best foreman in Joseph, who was also delighted to see Paddy leave, a real task master and fully focused. Paddy’s house was the start of a new road – Ulster Way. Paddy used motivational tactics of reverse psychology between his builders, some very funny moments. Tuesday happened to be our last day of building, we managed to just about complete 4 houses and mid-afternoon we had the closing ceremony.

Dignitaries and government representatives assembled under the big tree for the closing ceremony. The community committee facilitated various speakers about the building project in the area. All translations were done by the local legend aka Ali G.

Karen from Habitat Ireland spoke about how much we enjoyed our week and was able to get Ali G to say Céad Míle Fáilte (100,000 welcomes). The local school choir entertained us and their closing song ‘We’ll miss you when you’re gone’, opened up the flood gates.

Brent, Angus, Liam and Paddy then got ready for the handing over of the keys to the new homeowners. Popey offered his honour to Cath Evans (a former Ladies Wales and Ireland rugby international, who coached Cian Healy and Ian Keatley at U10/11 level; we now had 5 legends and a rugby mammy) to do the honours. Each homeowner came up to receive their key and through rapturous applause and tears the ceremony concluded.

That evening we celebrated around the bonfire, which became affectionately known as the ‘Ring of Fire’. All of the 27 team members took the time to describe what the trip meant to them. Openness, honesty, camaraderie and trust was displayed between a group of people that left Ireland as near strangers and returning without a single quibble all week as ‘Mates’.

Wednesday morning we assembled at Paddy’s house on Ulster Way for a team photo before we departed at 10am for Lusaka. One last walk along the plains just outside our building site and we said our goodbyes to the people of the Habitat community in Chipulukusu.

The road trip back to Lusaka was less eventful in terms of disasters and only took 6 hours!! At 3:45pm Karen received a call from the office in Dublin to say that the Irish President Michael D Higgins had accepted the offer to become Patron of Habitat for Humanity Ireland (HFH), this will surely generate great awareness over the coming months and years. It was also announced that rugby legends Paddy Johns and Angus Mc Keen had accepted the roles of Ambassadors for the organisation. HFH now has a President, 2 Ambassadors and The Pope, the future is looking very bright!!

Wednesday evening we were invited to a drinks reception in the residence of Tony Cotter, the Irish Ambassador to Zambia. After leaving the township only a number of hours before, it was a very surreal place to walk into. It was an entertaining evening of banter, stories about rugby and our work in Chipulukusu. Later that night the team over a few bottles of Mosi, watched a slideshow of pics of our week by the brilliant photographer Dylan Vaughan .

Thursday morning was an early start and a 10 hour flight back to Heathrow, to catch a flight back to Dublin. Before we left baggage collection in Dublin airport we celebrated happy birthday to Liam and Kim as they were about to hit the big 40 !!!

During our week in Zambia we experienced plenty of highs and lows of emotions. Every morning we were greeted by up to 20 kids who would walk us to work. They would fight over holding our hands, and at 5pm every evening they were there to walk the 500m path home. Each evening we would bathe in either a cup of water from a bucket, clean up with a packet of baby wipes, or if lucky enough if water was left from the solar shower bag. Toilet facilities consisted of assuming the Paddy technique – eye of a needle!!

The food the ladies prepared daily far exceeded my expectations, plenty of porridge, chicken, cabbage, rice and pasta. Angus has a new breakfast favourite of porridge and tuna!! There was endless supply of bottled water and the occasional light refreshment. Contraband supplies of tea, coffee and cappuccino were well traded… Nshima a cornmeal product was similar to a spud and delicious when deep fried – doughnut without jam.

The children of the community made the trip for me. They are the happiest bunch of kids I have ever met. They have the biggest brightest smiles ever seen and can entertain themselves through song and dance with everybody regardless of a language barrier (English is the first language of government and schools, but there is also 72 different dialects in Zambia). Their energy all day long put us to shame, and their ability to start a bonfire in seconds was incredible. They would always ask you your name and are fascinated when you show them their picture on your camera. They will make toys from anything – a car tyre to model cars and trucks made of wire, and drums from rubbish. In general the community is a very humble and happy society eager to better themselves.

Brent Pope has to the biggest legend of them all for facilitating with HFH this foundation programme. His charitable nature and desire to achieve is without fault, he’s also one of the nicest and funniest guys you’ll ever meet. All the rugby legends or leg-ends were a great bunch of lads, and I can only imagine what must have gone on when on tour when they were a lot younger!! They shared stories of rugby trips and the greats they played against. They are great motivators and generally created most of the banter. It was a great pity that Bernard Jackman, aka Birch had to withdraw at the last minute due to taking up a new role in Grenoble, France. One rugby story that stood out most for me was Liam’s trip to Argentina with Lansdowne RFC some years back. After playing a local club, they had dinner and guest speakers. Roberto stood up and spoke for a while and it ended up a story about his survival of a plane crash – you all remember the film Alive ?? Well this was Roberto Canessa telling his story about his survival in 1972.

HFH run village projects across the globe, and in Zambia they hope to build 250 homes on the plot of land we were on. HFH volunteer groups from all over the world will contribute to achieving this target and much more. The local Habitat committee were fantastic at minding and helping us whenever we needed it. Sakalima and Ann cannot be thanked enough. The four houses we built were of solid brick construction with a corrugated roof. They have four rooms and outside there is a toilet and washing facilities. A house costs approximately $5,000 dollars to build. Over time the homeowners will develop a garden and grow vegetables and hopefully sell them locally.

Just this week, Tuesday 19th June it was announced that Irish Aid have awarded €597,770 to HFH Ireland to support the Orphans and Vulnerable Children programme in Zambia. Funding will be spread over 3 years.

For me, the trip has been an amazing experience, one I will never forget. I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge with my brother Paddy, but my short time in Zambia blows the wall and bridge out of the water. I found the whole journey a very humbling one. It has been, physically the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, coupled with the highs and lows of emotion whilst having a week long belly ache from laughter with my new found friends.

Has it changed my life? probably not. Has it changed my outlook on a number of things? definitely. Compared to the township I left last week, we are a very materialistic western world, but it is what it is. We can make a difference, even in a small way. I promise you, if you have a week to spare, can raise the funds, have support from home, you will have the time of your life and be able to give somebody somewhere a ‘Hand Up’. You cannot buy this experience from a travel agent!! So get off the couch and contact HFH

Watch out for a documentary of our trip on RTE TV in September, filmed by the video master that is Michael Sheridan.

Finally, a BIG BIG THANK YOU to all of you that sponsored, donated jerseys, t-shirts and socks, there are 4 families in Chipulukusu that now have a better place to live. To my wife Hilary and my children Aoife and Conor, without your support and love from home, I couldn’t have done this.

Quotes of the week (you had to be there!!)

“Bring back the bush”, “Anyone seen Dave?”, “Yo-Yo”, “Who has the keys?”, “More Muck”, “Is that straight?”, “We’re not building tree houses!!”, “It’s your turn to sing Declan”, “Sean of the Dead”, “80%”, “Have you taken your pill?”, “The Long Drop”, “Get in their faces and intimidate”, “Let Tony take a shower first”, ”Slide 3 in the PowerPoint” “No PDA’s”, “That reminds me of my last time in Bangkok”.


Short video clips of our accommodation and what the area looks like:

Link to photos from the trip :

The really good pics are by Dylan Vaughan, the Pro !!

Team Zambia – Brent Pope, Angus Mc Keen, Paddy Johns, Liam Toland, Aidan Falvey, Brian Walsh, Carla Roberts, Catherine Evans, Ciara Murphy, Ciara O’Sullivan, Ciarán Kelly, Colin Skehan, David Henderson, Dylan Vaughan, Elaine O’Connor, Jackie Ryan, Jennifer Loftus, John Ring, Karen Kennedy, Kim Nolan, Mark Mc Namara, Michael Sheridan, Noel Hendrick, Pat O’ Connor, Sarah Byrnes, Sarah Murphy, Sean Power.


A Hand Up not a Hand Out – building in Zambia Part 1

4 Rugby Legends, 19 Leg-ends Volunteers and 4 Press/Media from all walks of life aim to build 4 houses in a week in the township of Chipulukusu, Ndola in the Copperbelt province of Zambia.

Wednesday the 6th June; after saying goodbye to my son Conor and wife Hilary as they headed to school and work, the day started with a cooked breakfast by my daughter Aoife, before my mam came to bring me to the airport. We arrived at Dublin airport to meet the team as we assembled in T2. There was a great sense of excitement and anxiety of what lay ahead. No sooner had The Pope turned up; my mam grabbed him for a photo, and so began the endless amounts of pics that were to follow over the next 8 days.

A short flight to Heathrow and after a very quick bite to eat in Wagamama’s, we boarded the flight to Lusaka. Evening departure meant a chance for some sleep, but it wasn’t to be. During the 10 hour flight, everyone got the chance to mingle and have a bit of craic before we landed in the unknown. Many rugby stories about Leinster were shared, and how you get tickets for matches etc…. but little did I know who Jackie Ryan was. I have been lucky over the years and have been able to get tickets as and when I need them for matches. Jackie is pretty much the same, as she blushed; declaring that her son worked in Leinster Rugby, not in marketing as we guessed, but as a current player, Dominic Ryan. Now we had 4 rugby legends and a real life rugby mammy!!

Thursday 6:25 am we landed in Lusaka and headed to a local lodge to get breakfast and our orientation meeting by PowerPoint. It was a struggle to stay awake but we made it through. Our next port of call was to visit the house Brent and Malcolm O’ Kelly built last year. The house or palace as called by the homeowner is now a place of security for all the family and keeps them warm in winter and cool in summer.

We jumped onto two mini buses, one pulling a trailer filled with all the bags and headed north out of Lusaka towards Ndola. What was to be a 6 hour journey, ended up as 8 hrs, with 2 separate blowout tyres on the trailer and a pit stop for lunch in Subway along the way. Truck drivers and a horse and cart offered help along the way. Liam described us as explorers like Ranulph Fiennes.

We arrived in Chipulukusu at 8pm in complete darkness; the last stretch of 5 miles is some of the worse roads I have ever been on. We were greeted by some many children and members of the local community. We off loaded the bags and supplies and made our way to our new homes for the week. We had 4 houses between the 27 of us. There were 8 people in our small house, 4 small rooms and just the bare floors and walls to comfort us. We soon set up camp, blew up the air beds and installed our mosi-nets.  We now had our own home from home. That evening we meet some of the locals and shared a few stories over a cup of tea. We retired to our cocoons for a well-earned sleep.

Friday 6:15 am cock crow (as it did every morning, sometimes from 5), everyone up and dressed for the first days build.

At our first site meeting we met the ladies of the four families that would get the finished houses. Each told their story and endorsed the very reasons as to why we were there. Each of the four houses had a foreman and a labourer to help with the build. We then got a crash course in how to mix cement, carry and lay bricks. Every family that is chosen for a house must meet certain conditions. They must take on a small mortgage over five years and invest in what they call ‘Sweat Equity’, this means that a member of their family must help in the build.

On my first build I worked with Brent and what became known as ‘Pope’s Palace’. Jim the foreman worked like a demon and ensured we had enough mortar and checked that our brick lines were straight and level.

During lunchtimes we played rugby with the kids.

Friday evening we were treated to what can only be described as a magical moment of embracing a child’s life from another culture. The children sang and danced for hours, playing tricks and games on us, getting us to dance with them and were amazed as they looked at the pictures we took of them with us. After the children left for bed, we had a few light refreshments around a small bonfire and reflected on the day.





Saturday morning we headed to the local village to a lodge to watch New Zealand v Ireland rugby test. Singing Ireland’s Call abroad in Zambia was a special experience, although the defeat was less enjoyable and Popey was gracious in victory. Liam Toland wrote his article for the Irish Times and our press folk enjoyed internet coverage, albeit at a snail’s pace.

House build day 2 for me was on Liam’s house, or aka Liam’s Mess !! Papa Jack the foreman is a man of great character and with a perfect smile told us that our brick work was great and then would fix certain areas and give another big smile and the thumps up. During the afternoon Karen and Popey went to the local TV station Muvi TV for an interview about our project to be aired on the evening show. The reaction was so positive that they would join us for the rugby clinic the next day.

Normally on Sunday’s they frown if you suggest that you would like to work on site, it’s a day of rest and prayer. As we had taken a few hours off on Saturday morning to watch the rugby test, they allowed us to work two hours to catch up on the build before we headed to 9:30 am mass. After we washed for church the children escorted us along a 20 min walk to Sunday service.

What we next experienced in church was something I will never forget. The passion, beauty and sense of love during the service were captured by tears and lumps in the throat. The power of music, song and drums was breath taking. During the homily we were asked to stand, and they thanked us for coming to help in their community, it felt like we should have thanked them for inviting us into their hearts. We had a collective round of applause. As we sat down a man on crutches tried to make a statement to the congregation, and was quickly quietened. At the end of mass, he grabbed Dave’s hand asking to be healed, by us the faith healers!! As the crowd gathered outside of the church, song began to fill the air and the parishioners then paraded the priest through the community.

After church we went to a local market and then headed back to get ready to go to the local school for our legends to host a rugby clinic. We arrived at the local school Mplembe about 1pm and meet the local private and public school kids, aged about 15. The private school kids were all kitted out in their jerseys and boots. The public schools kids were in rags, and most without boots. The legends along with some of the rugby loving volunteers ran a clinic for about 90 mins and then Aidan referred a game between the two schools. The public school kids called themselves the ‘Buffalos’ and had an amazing amount of energy almost celebrating a win before we even started. The game had bone crunching tackles, clothes line tackles and some dodgy referring!! The Buffalos scored a try in the second half and a kid with no boots stood up to take the conversion from just outside the 22. Two steps and a bare foot strike saw the ball rise in perfect direction, and what looked like falling short, hit the cross bar and fell over for a conversion. The joy in his face was priceless. Aidan blew the whistle shortly after for full time and the public school kids celebrated like they had just won the RWC. 

During the afternoon we met Des Angier from Lusk in Dublin, won emigrated to Zambia in 1964 and is the school janitor. Des declared he was linked with Lansdowne and Leinster when he was back in Ireland. After the game Popey presented a few sets of jerseys to the schools. Sunday evening we had some R&R and got the chance to watch the Ireland v Croatia soccer game and sample a few Mosi’s !!


A week is a long time to capture in a blog, so I’ve split my story into two blogs, I’ll post part 2 in a couple of days………………….



Quotes of the week (you had to be there!!)

“Bring back the bush”, “Anyone seen Dave?”, “Yo-Yo”, “Who has the keys?”, “More Muck”, “Is that straight?”, “We’re not building tree houses!!”, “It’s your turn to sing Declan”, “Sean of the Dead”, “80%”, “Have you taken your pill?”, “The Long Drop”, “Get in their faces and intimidate”, “Let Tony take a shower first”, ”Slide 3 in the PowerPoint” “No PDA’s”, “That reminds me of my last time in Bangkok”.

Link to photos from the trip :

The really good pics are by Dylan Vaughan, the Pro !!


Team Zambia – Brent Pope, Angus Mc Keen, Paddy Johns, Liam Toland, Aidan Falvey, Brian Walsh, Carla Roberts, Catherine Evans, Ciara Murphy, Ciara O’Sullivan, Ciarán Kelly, Colin Skehan, David Henderson, Dylan Vaughan, Elaine O’Connor, Jackie Ryan, Jennifer Loftus, John Ring, Karen Kennedy, Kim Nolan, Mark Mc Namara, Michael Sheridan, Noel Hendrick, Pat O’ Connor, Sarah Byrnes, Sarah Murphy, Sean Power.

Zambia bags are packed and ready to go………….


With just 4 sleeps to go before we board a plane in Dublin bound for Zambia the excitement and anxiety is starting to build up. What started as a fund raising journey last October becomes reality on Wednesday.

It has been a strange and emotional journey so far. Initially, my thoughts were of how I could help in Zambia? I have little DIY skills let alone go build a house. Then the fundraising began, in fact it was more like gentle harassment!! I somehow managed to not have to arrange an event and hope people would attend and donate. Instead through a network of family, close friends, Twitter (some of whom I haven’t even met) Facebook friends and work colleagues donations came flooding in and I can report that the target of € 3,000 was achieved and surpassed. The generosity of all of the above has quite literally humbled me and blown me away.

At a recent team building meeting, we finally got to meet three of the rugby legends on the trip, Brent Pope, Angus Mc Keen and Paddy Johns. Liam Toland and Bernard Jackson were at prior engagements, and only last week we found out that Bernard has had to pull out of the trip. Bernard was recently appointed forwards coach for Grenoble in France, a newly promoted team to the Top 14. I spoke with Bernard last week and he is gutted to be missing the trip, but pre-season for Grenoble begins while we are away and he just can’t miss that, Birch – you will be missed.

Of the three legends we met, there is a quiet one, a charmer and a strong one!! Liam apparently can be a bit of a prankster!! This is not a prelude to Snow White, although Karen from Habitat Ireland could be just that!!

Brent and Karen gave the group a fantastic insight to their trip to Zambia last year. They told us stories of the families they met, the children they played with and their whole cultural experience. Whilst it was hard working building houses last year, they felt that they got more from the trip than they gave.

The packing list…… some people call me the spread sheet king, but hey it works for me. From all the advice of what to bring on such a trip, I put together a one page of items and collected them over the past 5 months. It ranges from a small pharmacy, a tiny St John’s ambulance, Bob the Builder attire, a big brim hat for the solar panel, endless supplies of the Duracell rabbit, a cocoon habitat that will be my bed and Crocodile Dundee gadgets!!

I also have enough kit for 2 rugby teams; some donations for the trip came in the form of Ireland rugby training t-shirts, a dozen rugby balls, training bibs and about 120 pairs of socks. One of the guys on the trip Aidan (a rugby ref from Munster!! ha ha) has also acquired a raft of jerseys and TAG belts, and we have a competition to see who brings the biggest Leinster / Munster flag. Our plan is to arrange rugby games with the kids in the evenings after work.

Itinerary …… Depart Dublin Wednesday June 6th lunchtime and arrive in Lusaka Zambia (via London) Thursday morning. We then take a 6 hour bus ride into the unknown and arrive in Chipulukusu to be greeted by the local community and meet the families of the houses we will build.

Over the course of the week there will be a number of cultural activities daily and nightly. Local dancing and singing, church on Sunday, storytelling, visit a nearby market and embrace the immediate community. The Legends will also host a rugby clinic with a nearby university. We return back to Dublin on Thursday 14th.

Right now, I am so excited about going, yet anxious about what lies ahead. I just hope that I can give the local community, to quote Habitat Ireland “A Hand Up, not a Hand Out”, teach the kids to play rugby and have a fun journey along the way.

This would not be possible without the generosity of my friends over the last number of months, so to you all, a big big thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If I can, I will try and blog from Zambia, but electricity is a problem. If not, a full report and pictures on my return.

Brent Pope announces 23 strong squad; for Zambia Trip in June 2012

With just 44 sleeps before the departure to Chipulukusu, Ndola in the Copperbelt province of Zambia, Brent reveals his starting line-up for the Brent Pope Rugby Legends trip to Zambia with Habitat for Humanity Ireland.

5 Rugby legends and 18 volunteers making up his defence and attacking options, their aim is to complete 5 houses in a week.

Rugby Legends

Brent Pope aka Popey (Team Zambia Coach), born in New Zealand in 1961, played club, underage and provincial rugby in NZ, missing out on the All Blacks due to injury; and for Leinster, Baa-Baas and New Zealand XV. He came to Ireland in 1991 and successfully coached St Mary’s and Clontarf to division titles and senior cup victories. He also coached at Leinster in 2000. Today, you will find Brent as a popular TV and radio rugby pundit and he also does extensive charity work.






Angus Mc Keen (Team Zambia Prop), born 1969, played for Kings Hospital School, Lansdowne, Leinster and Ireland. Angus was part of the Ireland RWC squad in 1999. This man flies low under the radar, not much more is known of the Zambian Prop !!










Bernard Jackman aka Birch (Team Zambia Hooker), born in 1976 in Tullow, home of the Tullow Tank Sean O’ Brien, played for Tullow, Newbridge, Co Carlow, Lansdowne, Clontarf, Sale, Connacht, Leinster and Ireland. Bernard was part of the Leinster team that won their first Heineken Cup in Murrayfield in 2009. He studied in Newbridge College and DCU and has a degree in business studies and Japanese. He currently coaches with a number of clubs in Ireland and is about to take up a position at Grenoble in France next season as their defence and skills coach. Birch also has a book out, ‘Blue Blood – the Bernard Jackman Autobiography.











Liam Toland (Team Zambia Flanker), born 1972 in Limerick, played for Old Crescent Limerick before moving to Leinster from 1999 – 2003. He was educated in DCU, NUIG and Military Cadet School. Liam is the patron of Sports Charitable Trust and owner of Home Instead Senior Care. Liam was a Captain in the Defence Forces. He has worked as a rugby analyst for Setanta Sports and is a regular rugby analyst for The Irish Times.










Paddy Johns (Team Zambia Lock), born 1968 in Portadown, played for Dungannon, Saracens, Ulster and Ireland. Paddy won 59 caps for his country and retired from International duty in 2000. Paddy has played in two RWC. Paddy’s son Chris followed a different sporting career and is at Southampton FC Academy as a goalkeeper.

Volunteers (Team Zambia Attack and Defence)

Zambia Team leaders are Colin Skehan and Carla Roberts.

The ‘Main Squad’ : Aidan Falvey, Brian Walsh, Catherine Evans, Ciara Murphy, Ciara O’Sullivan, Ciarán Kelly, Elaine O’Connor, Jackie Ryan, Jennifer Loftus, John Ring, Karen Kennedy, Kim Nolan, Mark Mc Namara, Noel Hendrick, Pat O’ Connor, Sarah Byrnes, David Henderson.

Pundits believe that Brent has picked a very strong squad that represents all four Irish provinces on his tour of Zambia, however some quarters fear ‘will the rugby legends be able to keep up with the main squad’ !!

Popey has called a final team meeting on May 12th before a departure date on June 6th.

More info. to follow…………..

My Charity Page

Don’t forget to check out the Brent Pope Facebook page

Link to Brent Pope’s trip to Zambia in 2011

Team Zambia Volunteers help Serve the City in Coolmine, Dublin – March 24th

Saturday March 24th, Team Zambia met up in Coolmine, Dublin with Serve the City ( as part of our team bonding preparations for our trip in June and to help with painting the premises at the Coolmine Therapeutic Centre (CTC).

CTC have been around since the 70’s and is a residential facility for recovering addicts. In the early days residents had their heads shaved and wore placards around their necks as part of the rehab. It is somewhat more civilised these days. As part of the programme each resident is shown ways to take ownership of their destiny. How to become responsible for the actions and how to embrace good behaviours for the future. There are between 20 -25 residents in CTC at any one time. They are mentored by a group of people who allow the residents to run their days and decide for each other if they deserve treats, family visits, excursions etc. Their motto is ‘In order to receive something, they must give something away’, help others, and be helped.

Serve the City is a not for profit organisation that go into communities and help out with essential maintainance works. On this occasion it was painting the CTC buildings. Team Zambia came together to bond and help Serve the City on its latest project. During the day we moved to different parts of the buildings and got to work side by side with different people in the group and got to know each other better. We had a great time and shared a lot of laughs as we uncovered the characters in the group.

It was a great team building volunteering event and thanks to the sun for shining, perfect preparation for Zambia!!

Over lunch (prepared by the residents), one of the residents supported by other residents told his story. He is a recovering drug addict, now 6 weeks clean. He was in the facility 6 years before and had stayed clean during that time until he’s relapse. He explained the effects on his family and described how each resident in CTC supported each other. It was a hard-hitting story told by a very brave young man.

As I sit and scribe this blog I am delighted to say that I have reached and surpassed my € 3,000 target. So with 9 1/2 weeks to go, hopefully I can raise a bit more and Habitat for Humanity will benefit greatly. Thank you again to everyone that has helped.


Don’t forget to check out the Brent Pope Facebook page


What Lies Ahead…………

With just under three months to go until we head to Zambia, it’s all getting very real, daunting and exciting all at once about the challenge ahead.

At our first team meeting, some weeks back; a group of people from various corners of Ireland; single, married, working, in college with their own reasons for choosing to go shared them with the group.

“I want to give something back”, ” I want to do this for myself”, “I’ve been doing it for the last 4 years, as a teacher I can do it every summer”, “I’ve raised my family and I feel I’d like to help someone else’s family”, “I’d like to do charity work aboard as well as in my own community”

Over the last month, I have literally been over whelmed by the level of support for my fundraising, to achieve a target of € 3,000. I am delighted to say, that the target has nearly been achieved. In some ways I feel that I’ve cheated, due the different activities that my fellow volunteers are doing; sponsored walks, face painting, activities in their schools, and bucket collections in supermarkets. All I did was simple ask my friends and colleagues, and in droves they lodged most generously. Everybody donated what they could; some surprised me more than my own level of charity giving or expectations. To you all, I can’t thank you enough for helping me with this opportunity to ‘Give a Hand Up’.

So what’s Habitat for Humanity (HFH) – who are they? What are they about?

HFH’s goal is eliminating sub-standard housing around the world. They have been building worldwide since 1976, and their motto is to ‘Give a hand up – not a hand out’.

They have built more than 500,000 houses in almost 100 countries, housing more than 2 million people. In 2011 Habitat for Humanity Ireland sent 251 volunteers overseas, on various projects in different communities. There vision is a world without poverty housing.

Not to be too serious, but the facts speak for themselves;

  • 2 billion people do not have a decent place to call home.
  • Almost one third of the population does not have a place to call home!

Recently in Ireland, four homes were renovated on Emmet Road in Inchicore, in partnership with Dublin City Council.


So what happens when we get there..?

We have been told that as a volunteer / learner you go to another culture to find how people think and how things work there, NOT to convert them to your way of thinking and working. You experience there way of living and give them a hand in doing it.

We fly to Lusaka the capital of Zambia, and take a six hour trip to an area called Chipulukusu, in the Ndola province.

Despite large copper reserves the country remains poor with a big HIV/AIDS problem. The population is nearly 14 million, with roughly 600,000 aids orphans. Their life expectancy is 49, and HIV is prevalent in 13.5% of the population. 82% are living below $2/day.

HFH Zambia opened its doors in 1984. They have expanded into 6 of the country’s 9 provinces, and have facilitated multiple development initiatives.

I have just re-read the above and am wondering if Rachel in HFH HQ missed something when I passed the ‘Rachel Test’. It’s times like this when you read the harsh facts and hear of the realities, you ask yourself the question, ‘what can I do to help?’, I’m a pen pusher, soft hands, have been known to suffer from ‘Man Flu’, don’t do enough at home, yet I’m off to Zambia to build 5 houses. I couldn’t build a shelf!!

Our working day is apparently up at 6:30 am, breakfast and then a walk down to the project site. We will meet the families of the homes we will be building, and we will be sleeping as they do (hard concrete floor).

The mother of the family home will feed us daily. So unlike the Melon SA trip, there will be no hotels, hot water, showers etc… this is grass root, get your hands dirty volunteer stuff, none of that soft girlie stuff they do on the Melon projects (although, they do good stuff too :-P). Wrap up time is about 4:30 pm, and it gets dark by 6:15pm.

We’ve been told to buy torches and head lamps (all battery powered), as there’s no electricity!! That means no iPhone, BB, or PC; camera must have batteries too. I wonder should I try a weekend at home, with the family with no power. This is going to be a massive culture shock, that I have no doubt.

I have included a couple of pics of the before and after projects from previous trips, I must pack a spirit level, those houses look really great.


Anyway, that’s enough for now, except to say thank you all again so much for helping.

Two friends of mine Jeff and Ian are helping with some fundraising and have an ‘Unriggable Raffle’ (rugby related) where you can win a case of vino. Click the link and try your luck.

I plan to scribe a few more blogs before the trip:

  • Bonding Volunteers help an Irish campaign in Coolmine, Dublin – March 24th
  • When we meet the Rugby Legends of the trip
  • What to pack for the big adventure
  • T-24 departure

And then on return from Zambia, hopefully tell you all how fantastic a trip it was and share 100’s of pics to show you how your donations have helped.

Link to Brent Pope’s trip to Zambia in 2011

A hand UP, not a hand out!!

Blogging, I have to say, looks more daunting than it probably is ……..however time will tell and I suppose feedback from whom ever may read it!! My first steps into the social media world I suppose were; started back on the euphoria of the growth of Facebook and in recent years the explosion of twitter. Facebook for me these days, really only consists of irregular flicking in and out and some club rugby notifications, however twitter is a small addiction (@ciaran_kelly) ……….particularly on Leinster and Ireland Rugby match days. Smart phones (iPhone addict) make this all too easy.

October 2010, I received an e-mail via Leinster Rugby, highlighting Brent Pope’s (ex NZ Rugby Player & TV pundit) Rugby Legends trip to Zambia, supporting Habitat for Humanity’s global initiatives.

My initial reaction was to delete the email, but some four months on, I am delighted that I didn’t. About three days later talking to some colleagues on the way back from lunch, the conversation turned to some radio programme listened to the previous evening about charities.

When we got back to the office, I dug out the Leinster Rugby email and showed it to my colleague Alan…….”we’ll do it”, all but declared in stereo…. We filled in the on-line form and in less than two weeks with met with Rachael Sands in Habitat for Humanity Ireland. When Alan and I arrived, Rachael greeted us with a very warm and welcoming smile. We got coffee and then the interview began…… Rachael has a brilliant technique of phrasing questions to delve into your thoughts and motives for wanting to go overseas on a charity mission. After the third question the thought occurred to me that I might fail this interview and be “turfed” out at the first hurdle !!!!! However, by the end of the interview Rachael helped to convince me that this was something we now really wanted to do. We were in, we passed the Rachael test!!

Years before, I had wanted to go on the Niall Melon trip to SA (incidentally, Niall’s first trip to SA was with Habitat for Humanity. When he returned to Ireland he robbed the Habitat concept and developed the Niall Melon project for SA, as we know it today) but never found the right time to go, I got married and had kids. Years later, very happily married with two wonderful children nearly 11 & 13, the time was right to do one of ‘My Bucket List’.

Some might say (actually, do say) charity begins at home. I totally agree with that philosophy, my charity days began at home shortly after my first child was born, and started primary school. I joined the school’s parents association, went on to be chairperson and raised lots of badly needed funds from the local community. After number two child was born and took up rugby some five years ago, I began coaching in our local club and I am now the mini coordinator for the club also involved in local fundraising. The time now seems right to do a charity initiative overseas, tick off something on the ‘Bucket List’, experience a new culture, ‘give something back’, and  get to meet some rugby stars at the same time.

The next step was to tackle the fund raising ….€ 3,000. My first port of call was to setup a – my charity web page.

At this stage, for personal reasons Alan had to pull out of the trip, so the daunting challenge of raising € 3,000 now seemed a very tall order. I have to admit that I have been very lucky with great friends and colleagues. It is now the middle of February and I have all but reached my target. My plan started out a simple one really, setup the – my charity web page and tell everyone about it. I posted the link on Facebook and twitter. I have to tell you that the thoughts of planning an organised event to raise funds just seemed like really hard work. Over the last three and a half months the level of donations that came in, absolutely blew me away. Friends that I haven’t seen physically for a long time, people that I barely knew, and friends on twitter that I haven’t met at all, donated very generously to my trip.

Social media ironically pays!!

Last Saturday, we had our first team meeting with all the volunteers travelling. Our destination was revealed – Chipulusuku in the Ndola province of Zambia. A PowerPoint presentation detailed the trip including images of what to expect and do whilst we would be there. The morning started with team building games to integrate the team and get a chance to speak with all involved. Everyone got on great and a sense of camaraderie developed. Two more team meetings will happen before we leave for Chipulusuku on June 6th 2012.

By the time we finished, and packed to head home, every volunteer left the building with a sense of what lay ahead. The underlying feeling for everyone was to be able to ‘give something back’. Travel to a new culture, build 5 new homes with some rugby legends, and meet the families of the new homes. Work alongside locals; give them a hand up, not a hand out.

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