In May of 2024 Jay Bobinac and myself accompanied a team of five Tiglin graduates who had finished the rehabilitation program on a Mission Trip to South Africa. It was the 3rd trip of this kind. I came on board with the aim of seeing what this was all about and supporting the team in practical and spiritual ways. All five Tiglin graduates did a fundraiser to raise funds for the trip, which worked out well for every one of them. The itinerary included visits to several charities that were visited on previous trips, some practical work with a homeless shelter in Somerset West, participating in an aftercare retreat with ex-offenders and parolees and taking a group of teenagers from the Chicago township on a day trip to Cape Town and beyond.

The value of this endeavour to our ex-students became apparent to me even before we landed in South Africa. During the journey, one of the participants asked me several times to take pictures of him on his phone, which he would post to his supporters in Greystones. To see how firmly he was connected to the community of Greystones, his sense of accountability and also his gratitude for the support he received was proof to me that this trip is of tremendous value for him. At the very least, it served as an additional layer of stability and accountability for a person who just over two years ago, was a drug addict without any hope for the future, living on the streets of Dublin. After completing the Tiglin program, he was on his second trip to South Africa, looking forward to serving people less fortunate than him and giving back to society. Similar things could be said about all our ex-students on this trip.

After a night-long journey, we landed in Cape Town on Sunday morning. The rest of the day after we arrived at our hotel was spent resting and getting accustomed to the new surroundings. After that, it was full-on every day.

The photo above shows the group work in the Somerset West Night Shelter

The itinerary of the first week included a visit to Nation Builder. This charity was one of our first contacts in South Africa two years ago, then two days of practical work in a homeless shelter in Somerset West, where we painted partition walls in a previous school building that was being converted to house families. We also visited a local prison with Johan Groenewald, who runs a prison ministry called Walking on Water. During the prison visit, all of our students gave their testimony, we sang a few songs and encouraged the inmates.

The photo above shows the group of Water on Water and Tiglin participants during the annual weekend retreat

The highlight of the whole trip for me was the weekend retreat for ex-prisoners and parolees organized by WOW ministries in conjunction with Tiglin. The speaker on the first evening was an Irish gentleman by the name of John McGrath, originally from Co. Waterford—an extremely inspirational gentleman. On Saturday, we took part in the Darkness into Light Walk, which we transmitted live to Greystones. In the afternoon, we all went for a walk in the forest. At a gently rising slope, we all sat down on the grass, sang a few worship songs, and three of our ex-students gave their testimonies. One of the ex-students sang two of his own songs. I was extremely grateful and proud of the gentlemen and the transformation they had experienced in Tiglin. It was a powerful message of hope to the participants. A highlight of this weekend retreat was the performance of  Ingomsolethu – “The Future Is Ours” Choir who blew us away. Coming from a disadvantaged background in Mbekweni,  this choir means so much to them as it keeps them away from the negative influences present in their impoverished community. The energy resonated with us as they won over our hearts. It was very moving and heart-warming for me to see how our graduates interacted with the children from the Chicago township, playing games with them, hugging them and giving them the attention that they so rarely receive from adults.

The photo above shows the Ingomsolethu choir

After spending a few hours with the children on the campus of the Fountain of Hope charity, we went on our last soup run to a derelict farm, which proved to be yet another eye-opener for us: after an extremely bumpy off-road ride on a dirt track through the fields, we arrived on a desolate farm, where around 80 people squat in unbelievably difficult conditions. No running water, no electricity, no proper toilets—an utterly uninhabitable place by any European standards. As we were approaching the main barn, we saw many gaunt and emaciated figures, children, teenagers and adults, come out of the huts and shelters they called their home and run towards the barn holding plastic containers and forks in their hands. They were obviously expecting the van with the food. In the barn, one of the Fountain of Hope volunteers grabbed the guitar we had brought and sang a few songs with the children and teenagers. He had a great way of engaging with the kids, joking around with them and making up new songs on the go. Our team, however, was visibly shocked by what we witnessed and some of us couldn’t help having a lump in the throat in the face of such abject poverty and desperate need. It was a difficult experience producing a plethora of conflicting emotions, including shock, a sense of helplessness, but also empathy, anger at the situation and sadness that human beings can be left to live in such unworthy conditions. And yet, as we were distributing food, serving drinks and sharing smiles and handshakes, each one of us felt that we were doing something significant, albeit on a tiny scale. The fact that a group of guys from Ireland had come all the way to visit this desolate place, sing a few songs and help distribute food, drinks and treats was a tangible token of hope and love, telling them that they were not forgotten. It was very quiet in the van on our way back. Everyone was lost in his own thoughts and emotions trying to come to terms with what we had just witnessed. The images of that soup run would stay with us for a long time and serve as a vivid reminder of how fortunate and privileged we are.

Below is a selection of photos.

At the end of our trip, we had a debrief session in the hotel. Everyone shared his impressions and comments on how the trip went. It was a unanimous feeling shared by everyone that all of the 10 days we spent on the ground, there was a sense of camaraderie and harmony in the team. The atmosphere was always very positive and harmonious, and I came home convinced that this type of endeavour is indeed a worthwhile exercise for those who choose to participate in it.

day out with Fountain of Hope teenagers