Our Volunteers: Carmel Lawry volunteering in South Africa


Holy Family Care Centre

Playground equipment at Holy Family's creche
Situated at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains in Ofcolaco, Limpopo Province, South Africa, Holy Family Care Centre is responding to the needs of the sick and vulnerable, especially orphaned children with HIV and AIDS. Each person who comes to Holy Family Centre is helped to find peace of mind in beautiful surroundings and is treated with reverence and respect.

Run by the OLSH sisters since 2002, the centre has filled an important role in the local community, both supporting vulnerable children so that they may participate in community life, including receiving education at the local school and proper health care, and contributing to better understanding of health issues.

Several local staff assist the program and it is hoped that with training they will be empowered to take more leadership roles in the coming years.  To this end, a request was placed with Palms Australia for a volunteer nurse to assist for one year.

Carmel Lawry

Palms Australia originally recruited Carmel Lawry in July 2011 to fill the request of Holy Family, sharing her skills in health care programs for one year. After completing her initial placement, Carmel spent 18 months in Australia before returning to Holy Family for a new assignment in April 2014.

Carmel has 20 years experience in health care, with qualifications in Nursing, Administration and Training. In letters of recommendation, she has been described as a “truly dedicated and committed individual who always places others before herself.” She has overseen the workplace training of several colleagues and has ensured her Australian employer, an aged health service, maintained its professional accreditation.

She has twice previously volunteered in South Africa and has a passion for working with orphaned and vulnerable children. Since returning to Holy Family Care Centre, Carmel has worked with the local clinics and hospitals, and also become an asset in the Centre’s outreach work: assisting to re-unite orphaned children with their extended families. In the wider community too, various support groups, such as safety houses, have invited her help in improving their systems and organisation.

Carmel’s placement costs are partially covered, but Palms Australia needs your support to cover the remainder of the costs. Please use the donation link on the right hand side of this web-page to contribute.

Tsephiso’s Story

October 24, 2016

by Carmel Lawry, Palms volunteer at Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa

Tsephiso came to Holy Family at 7 years of age as she and her siblings had been neglected and abandoned. Her older sister was caring for her and her siblings, and they all suffered from malnutrition. Tsephiso’s mother was impoverished and did not have a home in which to care for her children. In desperation she had left her children to try to find farm work, and could not be traced for several years. Tsephiso was finally reunited with her mother and other siblings years later as her family’s situation became sustainable.


A typical RDP house

Tsephiso now lives in a RDP house, which is housing provided to the poor by the South African Government. Many people living in poverty wait years under The Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) housing project that provides housing to vulnerable groups such as low-income and female-headed households. A large backlog of housing requests exists and many wait years to finally receive a RDP house. The free housing scheme is available to those who earn below R3500 a month (AUD 350). The Limpopo province is home to the poorest in South Africa.


The smile says it all: Tsephiso with her new bed

As the outreach coordinator at Holy Family Care Centre I have maintained contact with Tsephiso since she left Holy Family.  The one thing she really wanted was a bed. She has been sleeping on a concrete floor covered with a blanket and her back would hurt every day. I think the smile tells it all!  I had been given money from a friend in Australia who trusted me to use the money appropriately. I arranged to pick Tsephiso up in our bakkie (an open ute) and I purchased a bed at a local shop. We set it up at home and she sat on her new bed and her smile was enormous.

Also as coordinator, I am in contact with children who have been reunited with relatives but who still need support through the provision of basic needs that we take for granted: food, clothing, blankets, mattresses and school supplies. There are no “opportunity” or secondhand shops, no “St Vinnies” or “Brotherhood of St Lawrence” to help people or buy cheaper goods; people are so poor and the poor are the best recyclers in the world.

Outreach work is playing a vital role as formerly children were often “off the radar” once they left Holy Family. We are now also happy to see our children return for visits during the holidays, and they are of course welcomed with open arms.

Carmel Lawry is a health professional from Melbourne. With senior qualifications in nursing and administration, she is a serial volunteer in Ofcolaco, South Africa, assisting to rebuild families in a region devastated by disease and unrest.

Some thoughts… Tsephiso is overjoyed with a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in. Meanwhile in Sydney our sleep is interrupted by fears of an overheated housing market. An ironic lack of social housing amid a glut of new apartments- Just when did we forget what houses are for? 


Back to reality… Children’s health in South Africa

October 14, 2014


Volunteer Carmel Lawry recently returned to her placement in Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa, after a brief “break” of study, work and exams in Australia to enhance her health qualifications. She provides another update of life for the community -and the young- of Ofcolaco: I have been back in Ofcolaco for 2 weeks and […]

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Rebuilding families and hopes in Ofcolaco, South Africa

August 4, 2014

Holy Family Centre in Ofcolaco, Limpopo Privince, South Africa is hosting two Palms Volunteers -Carmel Lawry, an experienced health care professional from Melbourne, and Louisa Cataldo, a passionate  teacher and musician from Sydney. Working on different ‘front lines’ both women are helping to rebuild life and hope in a region devastated by poverty, abuse, civil […]

Click here to read the full article

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To donate to support Carmel Lawry's placement in Ofcolaco, please use the form below. If you would like to make a general donation to Palms Australia, please use our dedicated donation page.

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Your donation will be placed towards the costs of sending and supporting Carmel Lawry as a volunteer in Ofcolaco. In the event that monies are raised above the amount required, Palms Australia will use them to support the placement of other volunteers. For more information contact Palms Australia.

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South Africa


Population: 51,605,347

Area: 1,219,090 sq. km.

Median Age: 24.7

Literacy: 86.4 %

Languages: IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, English, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, IsiNdebele, Tshivenda, siSwati

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has achieved remarkable political and social transformation, and is one of the few African countries to have peaceful and non-violent political transition in recent times. South Africa has a strong human rights-based constitution and development mandate which explicitly takes into account the United Nations Millennium Development […]

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Why you do speak so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying. - Bruno Hagspiel