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Issue 4 number 4 February 2018

A visit to Sierra Leone Dr Jenny James Taylor

P The Editors

Alexandra Green Louise Heffernan Sheila Hills

Silvia Joinson David Pope

Carol Worthington

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eter Penfold returned to Sierra Leone a couple of months ago. This time he was accompanied by the freelance journalist, Jenny Taylor. They met Dr Abs Dumbuya, who runs the Dorothy Springer Trust in Sierra Leone, which

is one of the charities nominated by the Charitable Giving Group that we have sup- ported financially for some years. This is an extract from the article Jenny wrote af- ter the trip.

Abs is an immense man. Except for his legs, which dangle uselessly from his huge frame, supported by crutches, he has the physique of a giant. Abs con- tracted polio at the same time as his father died, when he was five. He was spotted by a famous test pilot for Concorde in a Freetown Leonard Cheshire Home, dragging his body around determinedly with little arms, or making tiny wire cars. He was sent to England for education, and emerged with a PhD in engineering, all funded anonymously by the mother of the woman who lodged him for all those years. He did not know his benefactor was her mother until after she had died: Dorothy Springer is the name of the trust he came back to Sierra Leone to found.

He’d been helped for a reason, he realized, and now rises at 4 a.m. most mornings to plan and write as he campaigns for the disabled against a govern- ment that feels threatened by the changes he wants to see. I watched this val- iant man, still on crutches, haul himself up twenty steep steps just using shoul- der power. We’d gone for drinks with the Mayor of Freetown at his Parlour after a special morning service of Thanksgiving at Africa’s very first Baptist church. Nowhere has disabled access. Streets are clotted manically with traf- fic. There are no ramps, no made-up side roads even, and indeed no one very much in charge of anything. The huge impressive-looking mayor, his chain of office twinkling, offers us his hospitality: large duty-free bottles of Glenlivet.

Abs is just one of the great souls I have met here, introduced to me by the former High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, with whom I’m travelling. Peter himself is a hero, a ‘komrabai’ or paramount chief who stood by the Sierra Leone government against international protocols, during the 1991-2001 civil war and thus helped to save the nation’s democracy. Peter is lionised everywhere by the older generation, and some of the new. I am travelling with a celebrity. From the moment we step off (Continued on page 3)

'Dr Jenny James Taylor FRSA is a journalist, author and campaigner for religious literacy in public life. She is Managing Director of Jenny Taylor Associates.'

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