A retired Rugby teacher has returned from Sierra Leone and spoken of his time battling government corruption, teaching ex-child soldiers and taking measures to protect villagers from Ebola.
A teacher for 35 years, Mike Fielding, of Dickens Road, is the director for Extra Mile – a charity set up in 2009 which has built and sustains a school in Sierra Leone that aims to give children from poor backgrounds a fair chance at education.
Mr Fielding regularly travels to the school to assist with its running – he has recently returned from a seven-week trip there.
Currently serving around 80 pupils, the Ober Funkia Free Community School opened in 2016 after two years of building work – which had to be suspended in 2014 due to the ebola outbreak.
One of the school’s most recent pupils is a young boy who lost his parents and siblings in the August 14 mudslide – which reports suggest killed between 800 and 1,000.
Mr Fielding said the school had no more places, although when they heard of the boy’s plight they made an exception and gave the boy a place.
Mr Fielding said the school gives impoverished children a chance at having an education – when they would otherwise be on the streets or having to work long hours doing physically demanded jobs which damage their health.
He said the biggest problem the charity has faced is corruption, which he said is rife in the government and impacted on a previous attempt to build a school.
The former geography teacher said corruption affects the children’s ability to compete in exams against wealthier children, whose parents sometimes pay to allow their children to cheat – changing the grade boundaries and meaning honest children find it harder to achieve pass grades.
Mr Fielding first ventured to Sierra Leone to teach in an existing school, where some of the children he taught had fought in the civil war.
He said: “I wouldn’t want to tell you some of the stories they have told me.”
He recalled asking a pupil why he hadn’t completed his maths homework, only to be taken aside by a colleague and reminded the pupil had been a commander during the civil war, and that Mr Fielding should accept the boy had not adjusted to normal life yet.
Mr Fielding said he believes the key to preventing a repeat of the atrocities in the civil war is to give children hope.
He said: “There are still ones who have no hope - and when you have no hope you have nothing.”
During the Ebola outbreak of 2014 the charity had to suspend building work on the school – although it continued to help the community by helping to set up road blocks and donating laser thermometers, which provided an early warning to viral symptoms.
To learn more about the project or to donate, visit: www.extra-mile.org