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Sister Ethel Normoyle

Sister Ethel Normoyle, founder of the Missionvale Care Centres outside Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, is a role model and leader who has earned South African icon status for the inspirational work she has done to help alleviate poverty with infectious compassion.

She has defied all odds since she decided 23 years ago to single-handedly set out to do something about the cycle of despair of the people of Missionvale who lived in tin shacks with no service delivery or proper sanitation, no running water and a constant infestation of flies and stench in temperatures that range between 28 to 32 degrees for the majority of the year. Approximately 60% of the population in Missionvale has HIV and AIDS.

Sister Ethel started it all in 1988 by walking 45 minutes every day from her house to the township where her biggest obstacle was to win the trust of the people. Her first breakthrough was when a woman in the township, Diane, offered her the shade of a tree growing outside her home. She started her mission by teaching children to read and write, sheltered during the rain and with the comfort of shade in the warm African sun.

The children came to her in big numbers as they could not attend Government schools because their parents could not register them. Without a birth certificate they had no identification numbers and were not recognised as citizens and therefore had no entitlement to education.

Since she started to teach under Diane’s tree, Sister Ethel worked every day to improve the quality of life for the people of Missionvale with sustainable solutions. After 23 years of service and extensive fundraising Missionvale and Missionvale Care Centres are now shining examples of how a single person can impact on the future of the country.

The Missionvale Clinic where people receive medical care was the first building of the Centre. Then followed the Nutrition and Wellness Unit which is the largest and busiest operation. It is run on a daily basis to give 500 heads of households soup powder and bread with another 300 receiving a weekly food parcel. Sister Ethel firmly believes that in Africa today nutrition is medicine.

The Clothing Warehouse was started at the Centre as they believe poverty can hide the dignity of a person but when you don’t have proper clothing to wear your image is tarnished. The Caregivers Unit followed to attend each day to those too sick to come to the Centre.

Sister Ethel also felt that the Centre was not giving an adequate service to people infected and affected by HIV / Aids and The Resource Centre was opened during their 20th Anniversary Celebration in 2008.

Sister Ethel believes that education is the only ticket out of poverty and plays a big part in one’s personal, emotional, social and economic development. She also started a school which is strengthened with the Children’s Support and Development Program, an after-school program that helps provide children with a fun, safe and enriching alternative to life on the streets after school.

Skills Development Programmes are also in operation to give children the basic foundational skills they will need to lift themselves out of poverty. It also provides adult education and skills development programs like sewing and gardening.

Lastly the Centre has The Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church which the people of Missionvale wanted as they believed that if they build a house for God they would get better. This Centre has come far since its beginnings under that tree and today employs 41 staff members full time and serve an average of 1000 people per day.

Sister Ethel has received an Honorary Doctorate from the Faculty of Health Science at the University of Port Elizabeth and has been honoured by numerous national and international awards and fellowships. She is also the proud recipient of the Order of the Grand Counsellor of the Baobab: Silver, one of South Africa’s top awards, for her excellent service to society. 


 

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