Our Sister Ethel Normoyle the Bay's shining light

THERE is shining light amid a dark sea of poverty, HIV-related illnesses, malnutrition, poor or no education, crime and other social ills in our city.

The two extremes are not news to most Port Elizabethans, but I'm compelled to share a recent experience.

I am extremely privileged as a Rotarian to be a voluntary associate of the well-known Missionvale Care Centre and a friend of its founder and director, Sister Ethel Normoyle.

Rotary, over the past decade and more, has raised funds for various needs of the centre and has had these funds matched by the Rotary Foundation, amounting to almost R2-million in total project value.

This privilege was extended even further when I was recently invited, along with many other sponsors and special guests, to a function at the centre's community hall to celebrate Sister Ethel's 70th birthday and the Missionvale Care Centre's 26th year of existence.

Sister Ethel, among her many other awards, is a fellow of the Rotary Foundation with two Paul Harris Recognitions and was the keynote speaker at the Rotary International Convention in Copenhagen in 2006.

The master of ceremonies role was ably conducted by former Miss PE Chuma Myoli, presenting the centre's marketing manager, Linda van Oudheusden, followed by long-time volunteer and previous trustee Tony Wellington, both of whom delivered superb addresses. Staff morale was palpable as they demonstrated their commitment to their work in song.

It was, however, when the star of the show was introduced and stood up, that one could have heard a pin drop. Sister Ethel commenced by saying that if she had to speak from prepared notes, it would be not be possible for her to speak at all, as one cannot speak from the heart under those conditions, and that is her style.

What a revelation it was as all that needed to be said as to what she means to the needy in Port Elizabeth was expressed from the heart of this fine woman. Her solo rendition of I Have a Dream (and believing in angels) was a fitting ending to an unforgettable morning's celebrations.

Port Elizabeth is richly endowed with generous, caring citizens, as Rotarians experience each year with our Tree of Joy project for the children of the area. I'm sure the Missionvale Care Centre would also welcome any assistance for the many indigent and unemployable adults with not only donations to carry on this fine work, but support in many forms.

Details can be obtained from Linda at tel (041) 811-7525 or e-mail info@missionvale.org.za.

The centre has community health practitioners walking the dusty streets, a nutrition and wellness unit serving 400 to 1000 families a day with soup and bread, a volunteer general practitioner's unit and a clothing warehouse.

The Missionvale CC Academy takes care of the education of junior school children who would otherwise not attend school at all, an after-school programme to ensure there is no return to the streets and lastly an adult skills development programme, a craft unit and vegetable gardens.

This was all started by a "sister of the Little Company of Mary from Ireland" under a tree not far from the existing building. Sister Ethel, of course you believe in angels – you are one yourself!

Mel Smethurst, Linkside, Port Elizabeth