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Aylesbury man’s gift to blind students in Africa

Brian Atkins, pictured at the Methodist Church in Buckingham Street, Aylesbury

Brian Atkins, pictured at the Methodist Church in Buckingham Street, Aylesbury

 

A school for blind children achieves the most remarkable academic results thanks to the dedication of an Aylesbury man who works as a voluntary adviser in Tanzania.

Retired business manager Brian Atkins has been travelling to Tanzania for 15 years, and currently visits three times a year for periods of six weeks.

He first became aware of the Buigiri School for the Blind in 1993 when he visited his daughter Helen who was working in an Anglican mission school in Dodoma for two years.

He met Mdimi Mhogolo, the Bishop of Central Tanganyika, who is head of the largest Anglican diocese in the world.

His responsibilities include over 30 businesses and services including two hospitals, a health centre, optician, dentist and eight schools including the Buigiri school.

Mr Akins said: “The bishop has made a policy of trying to recruit people such as me who have had a career, a set of skills and might be willing to go out there for several months to help the diocese.

“I always wanted to spend some time working in a place like Africa because I wanted to experience working in a different part of the world, without the facilities we take for granted in the UK.”

Initially Mr Atkins ran two management development courses and then he agreed to work as a voluntary business adviser to the bishop and visit the country regularly on three conditions: he was given a written job description, secure accommodation and a vehicle.

In 2000 Mr Atkins saw Sylivanus Hosea, the inspirational headmaster of the Buigiri School for the Blind, who is himself blind following a car accident, tapping his way around Dodoma with a white stick.

Mr Atkins said: “He told me he was begging for food and money. He said he had 70 blind kids in the school and only two bags of maize to feed them. That Friday afternoon we begged and borrowed and filled his truck with maize, vegetables, sugar and oil from people who were prepared to help. It got him through the next month.”

At that time the school was destitute and about to fold. Together with the bishop and two others, Mr Atkins set up the Buigiri School for the Blind Project to enable the diocese, which owns the school, to pay its share of the running costs.

The government puts in£100,000 a year for, amongst other things, the teachers’ salaries.

The diocese needs £17,000 annually to pay for things including non-teaching staff, electricity, water, firewood and building maintenance.

Donations come in from many supporters in the UK and America, and an endowment trust has been set up in the hope that it will eventually generate sufficient money each year to cover the diocese costs of running the school.

One hundred children aged from six to 14 attend the residential school. Fifty-nine are totally blind, 11 have severe visual impairment and 30 are fully sighted as the Tanzanian education policy is one of full integration.

In 2006 the school was placed sixth in the country out of 14,000 primary schools for its end of school national examination results. In the last three years their position has slipped slightly, but Mr Hosea is convinced they will reclaim their higher position with the help of braille textbooks. At the moment the students use braille machines but do not have textbooks.

In March a concert will be held at Aylesbury Methodist Church to raise money for the textbooks. International concert pianist Phillip Dyson , a great supporter of the school, will waive his fee to perform for the first time in Aylesbury.

Tickets costing £10 if booked in advance are available from the church office (01296 426526) and Aylesbury Tourist Information Centre.

 

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