Beach bound with pink and white ice creams, arms tanned only from the sleeve down and the occasional sunny day, the ‘oul Derry summer’ is nearly upon us.   However this year, one selfless young pupil from St.Brigids College will be swapping sandals for steel-toed boots and joining a team of generous volunteers to build homes for orphaned and vulnerable children in one of the worlds least developed countries, Malawi.   In a fortnight Sinead Murphy, an eighteen year old from the Greater Shantallow Community will be completing the life-changing trip to Africa to help address the unimaginable poverty faced by an estimated one million orphans and vulnerable children.

Sinead, who has volunteered for local charities since the age of fourteen says she has always had an ‘overwhelming instinct to help others since a young age’.  Initially trying to find her feet volunteering, she enjoyed spells in various charity shops, bag packed or participated in bucket collections for a range of charities including Foyle Hospice, British Heart Foundation and Foyle Hospice.  Although rewarded by these experiences, they also helped surface Sinead’s desire ‘to be more hands on and in the field’.   Known within St.Brigids as a passionate and keen volunteer, Sinead was offered the opportunity to join pilgrimages in Lourdes and Medjugorje which she relished.  An encounter with Mary’s Meals in Medjugorje, a charity with the sole aim of providing at least one meal a day to hungry children and inspired by the stories her own father told of his own experiences volunteering in Africa helped form Sinead’s decision to help children living in poverty.  With the support of Habitat for Humanity, Sinead now had a sponsor for the trip, settling on poverty stricken Malawi as her destination. 

‘There’s nothing more powerful than helping those who need it most, and I love children, it was an easy choice.  I made the decision to go to Africa after feeling like I had more practical and hands on help to offer.  I felt confident I could fundraise the money needed to go given my experience supporting collections at charity events, but I knew I was going to have to take it to the next level as I needed to raise £2500’. 

Leading by example, young Sinead kicked things off and booked a sky dive which she self-funded using money she had saved especially for the occasion, ensuring all money raised went directly to the charity.   ‘After surviving the sky dive’ she laughs, Sinead got to work on her next event as she still had nearly £1400 remaining to raise. 

‘I knew I needed to lean on the great Derry business owners for this but I had no idea of the response I would get.  It was a big ask and I know they get a lot of requests but they made me feel like I was the first to ask for help.  Nothing was too much trouble and they were genuinely keen to help the children of Malawi’’.   Harnessing the support of suppliers in the local community in particular, Sinead had significant prizes donated from Supervalu, Northside Butchers, Only Skin Deep Salon, Jamie Mullison Photography and the Northside Mall team.  It was due to their generosity that Sinead was able to organise and host a night of raffles and prizes in The Bowery Bar who kindly provided the venue for free also. Sinead raised £1135 (and 80 pence she quickly adds!), leaving her 90% on target, and confident she can raise the remainder. 

This positive outlook is a recurring theme throughout the time we spent together, even when we talk about the possibility of her going to a university that’s maybe not a first preference. ‘’It will be ok, I moved schools before too and I was scared but it ended up being the best thing for me so it could be the perfect school for me, you just never know’. 

Perspective beyond her years has Sinead focused on the ‘bigger picture’ which have borne her global size goals. ‘I want to study International Development which is basically the study of the different governments around the world and their frameworks of support for their citizens.  I can then work in countries mostly affected by poverty and try my very best to make a difference’.  Bursting with potential, the aspirations of this young local woman have already outgrown her hometown. Sinead is determined to make a difference, and we say watch this space. 

Ahead of her trip, we chatted to Sinead about what she will miss most and what she expects to gain for herself.

How would you describe yourself: Laid back, in fact far too laid back for someone who is organising a trip to Africa and doing her A-levels at the same time! And someone who cries over the silliest things.

Uh-oh, does that mean you’re not prepared? I have spent more time researching stories of past volunteers and how to prepare myself mentally, and of course fundraising that I haven’t started packing for example.  I’m ready as I will ever be for the culture shock because that can’t happen until I’m out there but the wee things are still up in the air.  I am preparing myself for the change that will happen within myself, its going to be so tough coming back from extreme hunger for example and then standing in a supermarket with endless aisles of food.  I need to try and prepare myself for the feelings that will come with that and channel them into positive, constructive work when I come back. 

Have you anything planned for the days before you go, how will you spend them? Loads and loads of family time until they are sick of me.  There will be a ‘Derry Chinese’ takeaway in there because you can’t get that anywhere else in the world.  My favourite film is Django Unchained, I’ll re-watch that for the millionth time before I go, its gruesome I love it.

What will you miss most? My bed and my bath, definitely.  Being able to just crawl into my bed and chill out for a while like I do after school, I love it, I love doing nothing.

And what about hobbies, is there anything you are leaving aside for a while when you are away helping the kids? Luckily my hobby is volunteering, so I’ll be doing that 24hours a day.  I have found I really enjoyed the logistical side of volunteering, organising events and fundraising to a target. When I come back, I want to help the charities locally organise their events so that I can give back a wee bit closer to home.

What books will you be taking with you? NONE! I am doing A-Level English at the minute and you have no idea how sick of reading I am.  I am trying to read The Alchemist but A-Level English involves reading several books so the fun is definitely taken out of it at the minute, I’ll be leaving books behind but I am sure I’ll fall in love with them again.

Have you travelled much before?  I have been to the West Coast of America, LA, Santa Cruz, Las Vegas, San Francisco.  It was the first time it really opened my eyes to true homelessness.  We see pockets of homelessness in Derry and it’s a problem and I am not dismissing it, but in America it’s so widespread and awful.   It’s heart-breaking to see.

You’re forever volunteering or fundraising, do you ever relax and what does that look like?  I love walking in the rain with my headphones in, is that weird?

A wee bit! What makes you laugh? People tripping, I swear it’s the funniest thing in the world…not when they hurt themselves obviously, just wee funny ‘trips’.

Best compliment you have ever received? My parents are so proud of me for doing this, and they always tell me they are ‘pure proud’ and put their own safety fears aside for me.   My best friend also made me really well up when she told me she remembered me saying I would do this when I was really young, and here I was now doing it.  She said that she looked up to me and that was so nice to hear!

How would you like to be remembered? As someone who tried to ‘do good’ and was loved.

Have you any advice for anyone thinking of taking the first step to volunteering? Honestly, just do it.  It’s not impossible to organise something massive like this – it took six months from deciding to actually go, to travelling there.  If local support is your thing, just call in and have a chat to the charity, they are all so under pressure then they will welcome you! It’s a lot of fun too, the sky dive was amazing, and I got to help kids doing that!

If you would like to help Sinead reach her target, you can donate via the link below: