Friday, August 21, 2009

Cycling Preparations Continue

3 weeks to D-day.

Despite my previous confusion, and therefore incorrect information, the EducAid fundraising bike ride will start in the early hours of Friday 11th September in Paris and, 180 miles later, will finish on Sunday 13th September in Brussels.

I trust everyone's training and preparation is going well and that people are generally a little less saddle sore than me.

Alhassan kept insisting on calling it a bike race. Personally, I will be quite satisfied with not missing the train back from Brussels!

The last big bike ride raised over £20,000 for EducAid. We are really hoping that this will do even more. Anyone not able to participate, but willing to sponsor, can find the necessary details of how to do so on this link:

Many thanks all.

A Fitting Memorial

Many people have asked about sending flowers in Alhassan's memory.
While the thought is greatly appreciated, Kofi and I will not be around to enjoy them and their beauty is quickly gone. I know that Alhassan would greatly appreciate those of you who would like to, instead, contributing to EducAid. Alhassan supported EducAid in so many ways during his life and we hope its effects will be very much more long-lasting in the country that he loved so much and had so many dreams for.
All the options as to how to donate can be found on this link:
Summer school has started again and the numbers of newly enrolled students continue to demonstrate the enormous need for real education in Sierra Leone.

Thank you all once again for so many messages of encouragement and support at this so difficult and empty time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Memorial Service in UK

Just to let people know that we will be holding a memorial mass for Alhassan in Brixton at the Roman Catholic Corpus Christi Church on Saturday, 5th September at 10:30 a.m.
If you are able to join us to pray in his memory and celebrate his life, your presence will be appreciated.

Afterwards, we would like to have shared lunch. If you are able to bring your favourite contribution that would be wonderful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Almost Relentless Bad News

So.... Alhassan died on Thursday, 6th August, aged 36. Emmanuel Bailay, senior teacher in Lumley, lost his sister on Saturday, 8th August, aged 22. Mani Abu, senior teacher in Rolal, lost his brother, Thursday, 13th August, aged 40. Ahmed Nyandemoh, chemistry teacher in Lumley, lost his cousin on Wednesday.
Tragedy continues to be the daily fare here. People's lives are so incredibly hard. EducAid had seemed to be living something of a charmed life until this last year but, no more! We are having our fair share of the suffering this time round.
For those of you who pray, please do so.
The rumours abound. Firstly, the claims and accusations of witchcraft behind Alhassan's death. Secondly, the threat to Kofi's and my safety from the same hatred and witchcraft. In addition, rumours are in circulation that I will give up on EducAid and that I have sold most of my property and am on my way out of the country for good [despite my public commitment to the contrary at the funeral!].
Everyone and his aunty has had dreams of Alhassan, who has 'brought messages and advice' for me. It seems somewhat unlikely that Alhassan, of all people, who so detested gossip and rumour, would send his messages via the neighbourhood, but it does not occur to anyone that their dreams and imaginings may not be welcome!
Superstition seems to work hand in hand with corruption and gossip to slow progress and development. Poor medical care, decisions and facilities are not enough to contend with. We have to plough through all of this too.
The only glimmer of hope on the EducAid horizon at the moment is that the consular section here have agreed to review Jimiyke's visa application and are requesting some basic documents it should be reasonably easy to get hold of. [For those new to Jimiyke's story please see earlier posts.]
Please God, he will be able to access some decent health care and get himself in a safer state of health for the future.
Kofi and I will return to the UK for a few weeks to take stock and so that I can participate in the sponsored Paris to Brussels bike ride, 12th and 13th September, that Alhassan and I had planned to do together.
Mani, big Alhassan and small Alhassan, in happier days [only 3 weeks ago].

Monday, August 10, 2009


From the high pitched wailing from the throngs of mourners throughout the day, to the drumming and singing throughout the neighbourhood on the night before his burial, to the enormous crowds that turned up to his actual funeral, it was clear that I was not the only one to have appreciated Alhassan.
I will not be alone in telling Kofi about the wonderful father he had.
Kofi was somewhat extraordinary for his 4 and a half years. He insisted that he wanted to see Alhassan and say goodbye to him, even if it made him sad to see him cold and not moving. We went alone into the funeral parlour before the others came in to see him. He touched Alhassan and looked at him. 'This isn't Alhassan anymore, is it. He is cold. He is not soft anymore. Will he be able to see me, if I open his eyes?' and so on. Alhassan's local friends held a football and football cup aloft at the head of the procession to the grave. 'Can I have one football and Daddy have one football? Oh, but Daddy won't be able to play football anymore, will he. So, I will play football on my own, won't I now.'
He sobbed and sobbed during the actual funeral, but then calmed down and did some more reasoning. I cannot express what it means to have him to preserve my sanity at this time.
I am equally supported by the staff, students and Alhassan's family. Everyone has been amazing. Helena also came out from London at 24 hours notice, for which I will always be grateful. The messages of support and encouragement have been overwhelming from across the world. Thank you all.
Alhassan will be remembered fondly and with admiration by so many. I will always miss him. I keep forgetting and turning to look for him to tell him something and remembering all over again. It was all so incredibly sudden and is therefore so much harder to believe. 5 days feels like forever. It seems hard to believe too that it won't always hurt like this, but I know that time does heal and Kofi and I [and EducAid] will find a way forward.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Alhassan as we want to remember him

Alhassan died this morning of an infection that overcame his system and caused renal failure.

I was privileged to see a special side of Alhassan. Everybody knows his smile, his laugh, his locks but not everyone saw underneath. Alhassan laughed and talked all day. I have rarely known anyone so popular and so well known but more than all that, Alhassan was true. He was true to his beliefs, true to his friends and family and true to me and to Kofi. He was a thinker who could stand apart from the crowd if necessary because of his own self taught standards.

When I was angry, the whole school knew that Alhassan would be peace-maker. When difficult things happened, for all his lack of education, it was his wisdom that I sought. He guided me and protected me and he was a much loved father not just to Kofi but to so many young people in EducAid.

Alhassan and I argued regularly and every day we made our peace. He was no saint but he was a man of many rare qualities. I am proud of him. I am proud to have loved and been loved by him. I am proud to have his child.

I will miss him terribly. The hole is hard to believe. Every day whatever country we were in we spoke and told each other of our love for each other. We were determined that whatever the trials and the tests, our marriage and our love would endure the test of time. Now, it is not possible to prove our love for each other in that way, but I will never forget him and I ask that those of you who knew and loved him, help me to remember him by continuing the work of EducAid of which he was so proud to be a part. In Alhassan’s name I commit to continuing the fight to increase access to good quality, thinking education. In his memory I ask that you all join me and that we fight ignorance, corruption and poverty together.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coming together of like minds

It is my regular cry to my students that alone, standing against the constraints of poverty and the ruthlessness of corruption, they will almost certainly fail, but together they cannot be ignored and overrun so easily. Together they can constitute an army for peace, an army for change and it is their responsibility to sharpen their weapons [their minds] ready for the fight.
At times it feels that EducAid is a tiny oasis of minds willing to stand up for truth, but this week I have been excited by some of the inspirational people I have met: a couple of Sierra Leonean doctors who are passionate about bringing change to the medical situation in Sierra Leone. They run a hospital for the wealthy and use the profits to run another one for the poor! Also a lawyer who stands against the tide of fraud and corruption and maintains her self respect. She has thus gained a very unusual and highly prized reputation for being unlike the mainstream. Finally a Cameroonian lawyer seeking to start an institution in Sierra Leone with ethics where law, accounting and business are conducted with morals as a beacon of hope to those youngsters who aspire to success, but who want to maintain their ethics and self-respect. If such like minds can come together and achieve such standards and expose the lie that corruption is the only means of success, there is indeed hope for tomorrow's Sierra Leone.

....On a more mundane note, the store now has concreted steps and Alhassan

continues to recover. He is pictured here with the soldier, 'Lucky Strike', his rescuer, who dragged him from the gutter where he had finally collapsed when he gave up the battle with the bees!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More or less recognisable now

Day three and Alhassan is now recognisable if not beautiful. The malaria we blamed for the initial black out turned out to be malaria with other nasty infections thrown in, hence the severity of the reaction. He will get better and the swelling will go down but he will not be himself for several more days yet.

The car has had its bumper straightened and all seems on the mend.

Meanwhile rainy season continues a pace and the rest of EducAid bumps along with its normal ups and downs: Rolal's extra girls' empowerment classes have gone down extremely well, the ill volunteer has just about got over her malaria too; the handful of remaining youngsters whose permanent home is EducAid are sorting out their webpages for their new 'Rafi,ki' inter schools networking project, an experienced immigration lawyer has taken on Jimiyke's case, new mothers and babies are discharged and safely home and the new store gains some steps....