|First and foremost it remains
the best thing I have ever done in my life. I arrived in Sierra
Leone on 19th January 1992 as a VSO volunteer to teach typing to
young women returning to the education system. However, there was
a teachers' strike on, so I was invited to visit the Milton Margai
School for the Blind to see if I would like to use my spare time
to read to tile blind children and play games, etc., with them.
I heard about the school history and then they sang for me .......
and oh! what such amazingly beautiful angelic voices! I was so moved
and the only thought in my mind was - I want to work here, I have
to work here! During the next few months, I asked VSO to let me
transfer - as it happened, another volunteer was available to teach
the young women - and I was granted my request and started full
time at the school in September 1992. In 1994, VSO left Sierra Leone
and since that time I have been finding my own funding.
I teach the senior primary pupils typing on
'ordinary' typewriters so they can use the written word when they
are integrated into secondary schools and college/university,
to do their assignments, exams, etc. We now have one boy (reading
Law) and one girl (reading Sociology) at the University. I also
transcribe printed books, etc., into Braille (which I taught myself)
and assist with all aspects of administration and I liaise with
organisations and individuals both here and overseas to get assistance
for the school.
There have been a couple of times when I was
not happy - two times to be precise - once in 1977 when, four
weeks after the rebel incursion, I had to leave Sierra Leone for
my own safety; and again in May 2000 when there was again trouble
and I was evacuated. The time I had to spend away was very difficult
because, although I knew it was better' "to be safe than
sorry", I felt guilty at leaving the children behind and
not knowing how they were. As time went on I was able to keep
in touch by phone and having a strong Christian faith, I had a
firm belief that I would return to Sierra Leone on both occasions.
Like many people, I still find it hard to understand
what possessed the rebels to inflict such devastation to property
and tile incomprehensible mutilation of their fellow country men
and women and children: it is beyond the normal human being's
understanding. The scenes of devastation and the sadness and desolation
of the people I saw, is something that still touches me very deeply.
The positive picture in all this is that, thanks
to the presence of the British Joint Forces (and UNAMSIL), who
have done such tremendous work here and are very much respected
and loved by the people, there is hope for long lasting peace
which, after all, is what these friendly, resilient people deserve.
I pray I may be able to continue nay
work here in the wonderful Milton Margai School for the Blind
to help these blind children acquire a good education and help
them to a better future.