The story behind this year’s poster

Aisling Foley, a native of Cork and a Viatores Christi Volunteer, with Neo in her office in South Africa.

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Aisling Foley

It had always been a dream of mine to work abroad doing voluntary work,” wrote Aisling Foley.

“From a young age I regularly raised money for local causes, was affected by injustices in the world and always had a social conscience which I inherited from both my parents who worked voluntarily in the community. About seven years ago my mum told me about Viatores Christi, an organisation that ran courses for people who wanted to volunteer overseas. I joined one of the courses and that planted the seed, even though it took a few years to flower.”

During those years, while the seed was germinating and Aisling began her career as a solicitor in Dublin, she continued her work with the Clarendon Street Conference of St Vincent de Paul on Wednesday evenings.

“I often felt that this was the most productive thing I did during the week,” she wrote.

“Seeing how fortunate I was compared to others always made me feel grounded and grateful. I always had food to eat, a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in. I suppose this is where I began my mission of voluntary work.”

Seizing the Day

“Four years later, in 2008, I came to South Africa to work for six weeks as a volunteer in Home of Hope, a project that provides accommodation and foster care for children at risk. My reason for doing voluntary work has always been very straight forward. For me, if you are lucky to have been born into a great family, get educated, and have good health then it comes with a responsibility to help those who have not been so fortunate.”

“When I went back to Ireland I continued to work for a further year but I felt I had left my heart in Africa. The recession hit Ireland badly that year so I took redundancy and decided to return to South Africa with Viatores Christi for a year. As someone who had a good job and career and a big mortgage, there were a lot of obstacles in my way. Going to another country to start a new job in a place where you don’t have family or friends can be challenging or even scary.

I chose South Africa because I had been there before, knew the organisation I would be working with and, because they spoke English, I knew I wouldn’t have the further isolation of not being able to speak the language. There is never a perfect time to up sticks and move but I suppose some times are better than others and, for me, with the recession in Ireland, my health and the health of my family being ok, I felt that I had to carpe diem and go for it.”

Back in South Africa

“When I started work with Home of Hope I began working with children who had Fetal AlcoholSpectrum Disorders – brain damage caused by pre-natal exposure to alcohol. Initially, I started to research how to care for these children and compiled what I had learned in a handbook.”

“That was not the end of the story though, as we soon discovered that children with these disorders could not survive in main-stream schooling. So we started the first school in the world, called Amathemba (“Our Hope” in the Xhosa language), for these children and I am the project manager of this school here in the Western Cape.”

“Despite all the work so far, we are only at the tip of the iceberg in dealing with this problem in South Africa. I truly believe that I was guided to work in Home of Hope and that my mission is to stay here until God tells me that my work is done. Every day these amazing children I work with teach me so much about tolerance, patience and love and these lessons will stay with me for life.”