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Welcome to the next edition of our MHC Moments series, where we shine a spotlight on the contributions our people make to our community and the experiences that make us who we are. ​​

Trainee Niamh Cotter talks to us about her involvement with the Gaelic Players Association / Self Help Africa project.

Tell us about a volunteering project that you have worked on.

I was recently involved in a joint Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) and Self-Help Africa initiative in Kenya, with a group of 40 other GAA players. The goal of the project was to plant one million trees in rural communities in Kenya that have been devastated by the impacts of climate change. We spent nine days in Kenya in total, planting trees in local communities, visiting projects run by Self-Help Africa in schools and communities as well as playing a series of exhibition football and hurling games – which raised a few eyebrows to say the least!

What did you find most rewarding?

Seeing how the trees would help struggling communities was just truly amazing. For example, we planted a large number of mango and orange trees in a number of areas run by social enterprises in Eldoret. We learned how families could use the trees' produce to earn an income, while the trees also improved soil quality in the area and of course, extracted CO2 from the air. Trying to reach the fundraising target was a challenge, but when you saw how much of a difference the money makes in helping struggling families, it really did make it all worthwhile.

Did you encounter any challenges?

I found it quite overwhelming, and really eye-opening, to see the level of poverty existing in a lot of the Kenyan communities that we visited. For example, there were kids no more than 6 or 7 years of age minding their baby siblings, schoolchildren walking barefoot for sometimes 20km to get to their school, heavily pregnant women harvesting fields of crops. Despite this, the warmth and spirit of the Kenyan people was just an absolute privilege to experience, and something I'll never forget. They were always smiling, singing and dancing, and always made us feel so welcome wherever we went.

How do you balance your work responsibilities with your volunteer commitments?

I was very lucky with the support I received from my colleagues and was always able to plan my fundraising activities around my work commitments. I also think it causes you to be more focused when working on various deliverables when you have other commitments outside of the workplace, and this was definitely true in my case. My colleagues in commercial were so enthusiastic about the project and I was really blown away by the level of interest people took in it as well as the generous donations of my colleagues, and wider MHC firm, and I will always be really grateful for this!

Are there any specific skills that you have developed through your volunteering experience?

The CEO of the GPA, Tom Parsons, said during one of our de-brief sessions towards the end of the trip, that if you're not helping people, you're not succeeding. I really came to realise in Kenya how important it is to be able to connect with people on a human level – whether this is in a work context or beyond. Listening to the Kenyan people, and hearing about their struggles first hand and how they were working to overcome them, was incredibly impactful and really opened my eyes to the value of human connection. The experience has made me really eager to get involved in several of MHC's pro-bono initiatives and trying to help those who are in challenging situations.

What advice would you give to other staff members who are considering getting involved in volunteering?

Do it! There's so many wonderful opportunities out there to volunteer and to give back to communities both in Ireland and abroad. We're so lucky that by pure geographical fluke, we were born in a developed country. With this in mind, there's nothing more fulfilling than trying to make a tangible impact on the lives of those less fortunate than us.

Thank you so much to anyone who has made a donation, and in particular to MHC, who contributed through the MHC RISE project. My iDonate page is live until May 2024 for anyone who would like to donate.

When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, we see it as a natural fit with the way we do business. Find out more about our Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.

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