At the end of April Fermanagh men Fred Parkinson and Robin Hoey will be travelling out to Sierra Leone to help finish building work on a new school.
Brookeborough man Fred, a builder and stonemason by trade, has already been to the war ravaged African country a number of times to carry out aid and development work and during this trip he will be helping finish the roof and plaster the walls of the school belonging to an orphanage.
Fred explains that many of those who will attend the school are young people who were affected by the country’s brutal war including amputees.
Travelling out with Fred on this trip will be fellow Brookeborough man Robin Hoey and both have fund-raised extensively to be able to help fund this new development.
Speaking this week with Reverend Edna Kabbah, the woman responsible for the children in the Kenema orphanage, Fred said, “She told us that if she had never started the orphanage most of the orphans would be either dead ,on the streets or used in the sex trade in Freetown.”
Fred explains the building they will be working on is a proper, concrete built school which will cater for about 320 pupils – half primary school age and half secondary school age.
The total cost to build such a school is about £8,500 and, with their departure only a few weeks away, Fred can report almost all the money they need has already been raised.
What they do need, and what he would appeal for the Fermanagh public’s help with, is children’s shoes.
“We need second-hand pairs of shoes to fit children aged between 5 – 14 years of age of average sizes, preferably black but colour isn’t that important,” says Fred who explains that BMI are allowing them to carry bags of shoes for free because of the kind of work they are going out to do.
Explaining how he first got involved in going out to Sierra Leone, Fred says he went out with a group from the Methodist Church who travelled up to the East of the country to Kenema and Kailhun provinces.
Each visit usually lasts two and a half weeks and during this stay Fred and Robin will he working hard each day to get the orphanage school finished, working outside in up to 55 degree heat.
“If it gets hotter than 55 degrees you have to take a break as it’s just too hot to work.”
Talking about the school, Freddie explains it was established a few years ago and a teacher at the school only gets paid £5 a week.
“The conflict in Sierra Leone lasted for twelve years – from 1990 – 2002 – and a lot of young people suffered. This school has a lot of amputees and a lot of children from ten years of age who had legs and arms cut off.”
Fred also explains that during the war a lot of young women would have been raped by the soldiers and militants and this would be where many of the children in the orphanage came from.
Sierra Leone is a country of contrasts. Many parts of it are beautifully green and fertile and the country has many natural resources yet a corrupt government means it is one of the worst countries to live in.
“One in four babies die at birth, one in eight mothers die giving birth. Life expectancy for a man is 38 years, and 41 years for a woman.
“There is one doctor for every 50,000 people and only two ambulances to cover a vast population,” Fred explains.
As well as helping build schools and buildings Fred says the aid workers are trying to set the locals up with their own businesses so they can look after themselves and become self-sufficient.
“We are trying to skill up the young people who have been affected by the war to make them more self-sufficient and able to look after themselves.”