Meghan McKennan '08
Meghan is an Augustinian Volunteer living and working outside of Durban, South Africa with two organizations: The Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust and St. Theresa’s Home for Boys.
Prior to this Meghan spent a year in the Bronx, NY and worked as an Educational and Activities Coordinator at Siena House, a transitional shelter for women who were either pregnant or had a child under the age of three.
Check out Meghan’s blog, Hope on the Horizon, to see her tales of her year in Durban, South Africa.
What is your daily routine?
As a fulltime volunteer at the AIDS Centre, a palliative care facility, my duties cover a wide range of responsibilities, from filing papers to administering bed baths, performing basic wound care and distributing medicine for twenty-five inpatients. My days are often filled with accompanying individuals to local township clinics to pick up their Anti-Retro Viral and Tuberculosis medications or assisting them in gaining identification documents such as ID books, birth certificates and government financial grants. Three afternoons a week my roommates and I go to St. Theresa’s Boys’ Home, which houses seventy boys from age two up to eighteen. We assist them with their homework and once assignments are complete we spend time playing games and sports. Some of the boys have lost parents to HIV/AIDS or other related illnesses; others have living relatives who, for various reasons, cannot care for them. Some of our boys have varying degrees of mental or physical disabilities, and the majority come from troubled or abusive backgrounds. The boys are a very special part of my life in South Africa and have become like family to me.
What are you thankful for?
I am truly grateful for the love and support of my family which has provided me with the opportunity to participate in this year of service. Their support has granted me access to other parts of the world and people who, although close in proximity, are worlds away in circumstance. I am grateful for the openness, love and friendships that I have been blessed with this year and am even grateful for the challenges that have confronted me. Each situation has taught me the true value of holding strong to the things which I find important: having a loving family, a life of openness, communication and honesty and surrounding yourself with individuals who care for and support you.
How can alumni help from where they are?
Both the Augustinian Volunteer program and the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust are brilliant organizations which have enriched my life and the lives of others in countless ways. Through supporting each program (through monetary donations to either organization or purchasing hand crafted jewellery and gifts from Woza Moya, an income generation project associated with Hillcrest) individuals can help to supplement the work that I’ve already completed and can ensure that it will continue in the future.
What have the people of South Africa taught you?
The powerful lessons about life, love, strength and determination which I have gained from being a part of the South African culture far exceed what I feel like I personally have ‘given’ this year. The innate strength found in the eyes of my patients during their most gruelling and sometimes final moments has taught me the meaning of perseverance. The deep and unending faith of the Zulus especially during times of grief, despair, death and heartache has strengthened my own faith and has comforted me during my hardest of days. The profound friendships that I have formed with patients, my boys at St. Theresa’s and the families to whom I deliver food parcels to once a week have once again proven that love knows no boundaries. And the unspoken abundance of affection which I am blessed with each day has encouraged me to love with all my heart and then love some more.
What do you miss from living in the US?
The first thing that comes to mind when you ask what I miss about the States would be a delicious breakfast bagel sandwich and a good coffee! But in all seriousness, being here I’ve also learned the important difference between a want and a need. There are things that I initially wanted because I thought they would make this year more comfortable: a TV that plays something other than our limited DVD selection, a car with a working radio or unlimited internet. But I’ve learned that life isn’t about being comfortable and there are very few things you really need to be happy. Life is simply about learning to love yourself and others and allowing yourself to be loved in return.
What inspired you to spend the last two years as an Augustian Volunteer?
I believe that Merrimack College set the foundations for my desire to serve the people of the world. As a student I learned the importance of building community and service to others. As Merrimack alumna I urge you to find ways to challenge yourself to make the world a better place, whether through conservation, sustainable support of a project or through staying informed about local and global charitable organizations and their work.
A PBS film crew joined Meghan and her fellow volunteers in South Africa filming a documentary for their program, Visionaries which profiles non profit organizations. They highlight the Order of St. Augustine and the amazing work the Augustinians do in Philly, South Africa and around the world. Check out the documentary here (Meghan can be seen at 16.41.)
Augustinian Volunteers are Catholic men and women who wish to serve God’s people in partnership with the Augustinians and others. The service of the Volunteers is with established educational, social, and health programs and varies according to the needs of the sponsoring site and the individual Volunteer.