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The five days that shook my world; A YEAR ago GMTV reported on 15-year-old South African Mathapelo, who lived a life of poverty. Last week weather girl Andrea McLean and a team of builders surprised Mathapelo by providing her and her school with 400 bicycles, a minibus, school equipment, a water tank and an extra classroom to house a computer room and a library. This is her diary of an extraordinary week.


Monday 10th October

OUR first broadcast today. I was quite nervous, which is unusual for me, I'm normally calm before a live slot. It all seemed a bit daunting; the sheer scale of the project, the places and people's names to get my head, not to mention my tongue, around.

Working with Sue Jameson, my GMTV colleague who discovered Mathapelo on a trip to South Africa 18 months ago and had set up the story, was a dream. She is a true professional.

Mathapelo was staggering; one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen. I could understand why she hadmade such an impression on Sue. The rest of the school kids were charming too; they were curious but polite as we ran around in the dust, trying to be in the right place at the right time for our broadcasts. It was such an adventure for them all.

On the long drive back to our accommodation that afternoon (we'd had provisions to buyand things to organise for the next day) we all spoke about howmoved wehadbeenby the experience. It's always an emotional time, doing your first live "hit" of a week from somewhereoverseas, but this was really special.

We were all filthy, covered from head to toe in fine, red African dirt. It was in our hair, our clothes, our mouths; there was no escape from it.

And yet every one of the children we saw today was immaculate and smiling. How did they do it?

We retired to our chalets early, (I am sharing a room with Sue) and we all slept like babies

Tuesday 11th October

I CREPT into the bathroom at 4.20am and turned on the taps.There was a strange gasping noise, and a splutter, but no water. I brushed my teeth with the bit of water left in the glass by my bed.

When we got to the school, we made sure we were all clear about what was happening over the next few hours, and our satellite link was OK.By6.30am South African time (an hour in front of the UK), Tenyane Secondary School was teeming with kids and teachers, as well as GMTV crew - the usual organised chaos.

By7am,we were off and running and on air. It was exciting for all of us.

The work is coming on, and although the water saga continues (the pump we'd got wasn't strong enough as the well had to be dug to 89 feet rather than the predicted 50, and hasn't been replaced yet) it looks hopeful that by tomorrow the school will have running water.

And at the moment that's more than we have; at this rate we'll all be washing under the tap at Tenyane

Wednesday 12th October

TODAY was the most emotional and tiring day we've had so far.We were live from Mathapelo's house, a small concrete square with rough floors, half finished windows and no electricity.

She was excited that we were there, and chatted happily all morning while we filmed and painted with her.

We surprised Mathapelo with the gift of a bike. She was so thrilled she jumped straight on it, andwhen I asked her if she knewhow to ride a bike, she laughed: "No, but I'll learn!" There wasn't a dry eye WE arrived on site at the school at 6am as normal (5amUK time) and started setting up.The first broadcast we did at 6.25am (UK time) was to give a group of boys a football strip andsome footballs. We thought they'd beover the moon, butnot one of them spoke to me. It all fell a bit flat and I spent a while afterwards kicking myself for not doing a good hit.

Later I had to somehow tell viewers at home we were going to give Mathapelo a new bedroom and give the rest of the school bikes... without the kids, who were sitting right next to me, hearing.

The moment I showed the students their bikes was great.They stood quietly, not sure what to do. I asked Mathapelo to explain it to them, and she shouted: "These are your bikes. Howdo you feel about that? ? No more late for school.Try them." And there was pandemonium as all the kids ran and grabbed a bike.

Next, we made our way to Mathapelo's house, and the race was on to finish decorating it before she arrived home.

We painted, cleaned windows, scrubbed floors and put up curtains, laid rugs and made her a bed.When I led her through the door, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

This girl, who until that moment had only ever slept on the floor of her mum's room, couldn't speak as she looked at her brand new bed, sheets and clean rugs...

and best of all, pyjamas in her favourite colour, pink.

I was choked up just watching her take it all in. It was the most humbling experience of my life.

It has been an emotional and tiring week, and we have been hugely affected by it all.

I've been to Africa many times, and done charitable work with kids before, but I've never been as moved as I was today. For that smile, for that intake of breath, it has all been worth it

in the house.When the camera stopped rolling, I asked her if she was worried about how her neighbours would react when they knew we'd given her gifts.

She shrugged and said: "Why should l worry about them?They are jealous already because you've been here. I don't think about them because that is looking back. I am looking forward and up."

She is a very special and surprisingly astute girl, and I hope she gets the opportunities she deserves in life.

As soon as we came off air, we split into two teams; half carried on painting Mathapelo's rooms and five of us went to the 'secret stash' of bikes.

We spent the next four hours blowing up the tyres on 50 bikes, as well as putting on pedals and realigning the handle bars.

All the bikes are courtesy of Royal Mail, who have donated them to the school, and we are going to be surprising the pupils tomorrow with them. Eventually every pupil in the school will have a bike, and I have to say, sorting out the other 350 is not a job I'd look forward to!

We were all exhausted by the end of the day, and filthy with oil, grease and dust - thank God the water is back on.

My colleague Sue flew back to the UK today, and it was an emotional farewell. Not only have I enjoyed working with her, but I'm now on my own in the chalet, and I think the cockroaches have been lying in wait, there seem to be so many.

Time to turn out the light and hope they don't crawl onme in the night. Gulp

Thursday 13th October

Friday 14th October

IT'S all over, I can't believe it. We were tired when we arrived on site this morning and struggled to get going.

But the adrenalin soon kicked in, and so did the excitement that in the space of a week we done so much and were about to reveal a new classroom and surprise the kids with a minibus.

With seconds to go before our last broadcast, we were sweeping and sorting then I heard Ben Sheppard's voice in my ear from London, asking "How has it gone Andrea?" I had no script, I just knew l had to recap what we did during the week, show the classroom and reveal the bus.

The children clapped as Mathapelo cut the ribbon to open the classroom, and Lynn James, our history teacher from the UK who had been with us throughout the trip started to well up.

By the time I had revealed the bus, I could feel the tears in my eyes too, and as I handed back to the studio, the children began to sing their beautiful national anthem.Thank God Ben didn't ask me any more questions, because by then I was sobbing into my hands.

I have never reacted this way to a live broadcast, and l doubt I ever will again.

What we did this week was so real, so genuinely helpful and done in such good faith that it overwhelmed me.We changed the course of someone's life; we made the lives of 400 poor children in Africa better. Then we packed up our equipment and left, waving tearful goodbyes to the kids who ran to see us.

Andnow I'm back in my hotel in Polokwane, where there is hot running water and free shampoo. It is less than two hours' drive away from Mamone, but it is also a lifetime away. Two hours away, a girl is pushing a wheelbarrow laden with buckets of water so she has something to wash with tonight. But she will sleep tonight in her ownbedand look at the pictures of Britain we stuck to her wall to remind her of her friends far away


BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS: Andrea; and the team worked hard to improve life for Mathapelo, below. They dug a well for the school, decorated her house and built a new classroom, but Andrea admits it was all worthwhile when she saw the young girl's reaction; ALL SMILES: Mathapelo's mum
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 18, 2005
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